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Last Updated     May 20 2018
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Blasted And Re-Assembled

The Chase

Regina     Getting some control over their situation, Mikah had ordered the ship to chase after a sensor hit they'd seen leaving their position after the satellite explosion.  They were sure it wasn't the body of Chief Petty Officer Vedsky because it gave off too much albedo.  Past that, opinions varied from 'part of their cargo bay door' to 'their missing cargo container' to 'part of the exploded satellite'.  Unfortunately, the blip had a good lead on them because of the fight against the raider they'd destroyed.  And the damage they'd taken in combat would slow them, so they'd spend even more time chasing the debris.  Settling on a plan, Mikah wanted to recover the debris first.  Next, they'd turn to the SDB base for local support before making other decisions.

Since tracking said it would take more than ten hours to chase down the sensor hit, Mikah decided to split the crew into two sections, like during wartime operations.  During the first shift, Emkir piloted while Terin racked out, to take over during the second shift.  Fesic manned the weapons station, in case they saw any more unexpected visitors, while Zimzod grabbed four hours sleep.  Mikah did her best to finish what she could as far as treating Munarshu.  She then hit him with drugs to keep him out for the next 24 hours.  Done for the moment, she grabbed one of the recovery beds in the med-bay, to be close to her patient and the bridge if needed.  After helping Mikah move Munarshu to the med-bay, Rol hit his stateroom and went to sleep because he figured he'd have to help Zimzod recover the debris after they caught up to it.

Aali spent the first shift working to come up with a more comprehensive list of the ship's damage and work needed to recover.  She broke the list by work they could do "now", work they needed supplies for and things they'd just need to replace.  Aali also put a large effort into getting the androids as operational as possible.  That way, after she racked out, and with Munarshu out of action, the 'droids could keep the work going.  In her report, Aali told Mikah and the others they'd need to spend a lot of cash to make repairs.  Eventually, four of the ship's jump capacitors were either destroyed or damaged to the point they had to be replaced.  After Aali finished her report, she went to sleep, figuring she'd need to evaluate whatever they recovered after they caught up to it.

Recovery And Understanding

     The morning firmed up while Terin took over flying and Emkir grabbed sleep.  Zimzod took over for Fesic, who also grabbed sleep.  When he arrived, Emkir told Terin what they'd learned of the sensor contact they'd been chasing, which was almost nothing new.  That meant that, whatever it was, the computer couldn't model it from the data the sensors were getting.  So, there hadn't been a way to better identify the object.  After assuming the bridge, Terin started working the sensors and working out the details for the planned intercept.  With that plotted and his data stored on the computer, Terin started working on the larger issue.  With the ship's jump system essentially dead, the crew would eventually have to cross much of the Regina system in normal space.  So, Terin pulled up the system charts and began measuring and plotting.

Terin ran tests on the ship's fuel systems while he worked, based on Aali's damage report.  What bothered him most was the damage to the ship's fuel tanks.  Doing the math, Terin confirmed some of the fuel tanks damaged were dedicated to the normal space flight systems.  That meant their normal flight duration of twenty eight days was down to closer to twenty one days.  And the damage also meant Terin couldn't be sure exactly how much of a reduction there was?  The problem this created was that it would take the Hotel California between twenty three and twenty five days to make the crossing.  So, there was a very real chance they could run out of fuel days before they got close enough for to where support could help them.  It wouldn't do to survive everything only to run out of power and die in the empty space between the Regina system's gas giants.

Spending a good part of his shift working the sensors while working on that problem, Terin checked and re-checked his data.  On comms, the SDB commander confirmed for Terin that the SDB base had no lanthanum-grid embedded hull plating.  Nor did they stock repair parts for jump system components.  So, it was looking like they'd have to come up with a short term field repair and a non-jump plan.  That could mean cutting into the ship's hull, or exploiting hull damage, to disconnect tanks from the jump system and connect them to the normal space flight system.  And that would have to be very carefully done, because they'd have to re-route tanks filled with hydrogen fuel at the time, so they could benefit from that fuel.  If not, they'd not get the extra fuel they needed and possibly loose needed fuel off to space.

Another part of Aali's report covered the remains of the engineering android that had been destroyed.  The bad news was that the unit wasn't repairable.  The good news was that "destroyed" rarely meant 100% destroyed.  Or, that the destroyed unit might have repairable or undamaged components.  Almost 30% of the damaged device were recoverable components including all the android's arms.  And just less than that one third were recoverable intact.  That included, thanks to blind luck, the android's brain.  On top of that luck, the stock of arms which could be repaired would be more than enough to restore android number five.  That gave Aali better hopes of inexpensively repairing all but one of the androids, which was better news than Aali had hoped for beforehand.  Still, the butcher's bill was still somewhere between KCr 100 and half a million to fix what was left depending on more in-depth investigation.  When she had the time.

Beyond the 'droids, Aali's report on the ship was less complete thanks to the lack of time she'd had.  But, she'd confirmed the ship was atmo-tight except for the jump drive engineering section and the cargo bay.  Reading her report, Zimzod decided to call with the SDB base command and discuss their larger mission.  When he connected with the officer, the Commander asked how he could help the crew?  Zimzod asked about being able to fix up their hurts and the man admitted he'd try.  But, he also told Zimzod he was limited in what help he could give.  Past loaning him engineers, he had no lanthanum-grid hull plating, so he couldn't help them there.  And, he had no jump components, so he couldn't help with their big-ticket items.  Still, he was willing to give them as much fuel as they needed.

With that help, the officer told Zimzod two of his system defense boats had been burning to intercept their course and give any support they could.  The Commander ordered the Hotel California to fall back if threatened, and let his SDB crews take the lead against any new threats.  Emkir agreed with that while settling into his shift and did his best to manage the sensors to better try and ID the debris they were chasing.  Sadly, even while continuing to close, the computer couldn't give them any better analysis.  The hours burned by and Emkir got two more hits on the edge of the ship's sensor range, but those were soon tagged as the system defense boats he knew were chasing them.

Seeing them was a comfort despite the distance between them.  It was nice to not be alone with the damage they'd taken.  Still, at a tangent to their flight path, the SDB's would fall off the sensors again until the California decelerated.  While Emkir flew, he kept eyes on the sensors and continued to work to identify their target.  Emkir also regularly sent updates on their situation to the SDB's and their base.  Less regularly, he sent packet updates to Regina Prime.

New Questions And Some Answers

     Nearing the end of his four-hour shift, Emkir threw the switch to send awakening chimes throughout the ship.  By the time people started waking up, Emkir figured he wasn't being relieved.  That was because they were just over an hour out from intercept with the object they'd been tracking and chasing.  Still, he knew Terin would be taking the co-pilot's seat, so that helped.  The SDB's were off the sensors while their intercept course had more aligned with the California's and they'd fallen behind while correcting their vector to a straight-out chase.  The others went through a short 'wake and prep'.  After that, Rol planned to start preparing breakfast.  Mikah started checking on Munarshu and the others assumed their stations.

Working his post and sharing his readings with Zimzod, Emkir's work with the scanners had come back with readings telling him the object was metallic.  Emkir was annoyed that, the more data they had, the less the computer could match it to any object in its standardized database.  That added "random bits of the debris blown off their own ship" to the list of items the object could be.  That happened while Mikah checked on Munarshu and found he was still out, which she'd expected.  But, he was healing, so Mikah squared away her gear and moved to the bridge to find out if anything had changed?  While most of the waking crew made their way to the bridge, Rol remained in his stateroom preparing his sealed armor, to assist in an EVA to recover whatever they had been chasing.  Aali moved to engineering, figuring she could open a comms to the bridge and get updated.

People arrived and Emkir told them, "We're catching up to the bogey, whatever the hell it is.  And, I've been sending the other guys reports with some of the information, because I don't wanna look like I'm clueless.  So, we're just waiting until we catch up with the fucker."  Joking, he continued, "Anybody got a harpoon?"  Since they'd closed range, one thing Zimzod and Emkir could say was that it wasn't a cargo container.  So it wasn't their lost ton of speculative precious metals.  Terin began running new scans of his own while taking the second seat.  He largely found the object looked like it could be a panel or wall-like object composed of electronics.  That suggested it was a component panel from either a ship or satellite, but gave them nothing conclusive.

When Fesic reported to the bridge, Zimzod left to get into his battledress and prepare to EVA when they got close enough.  Before he left the bridge, Emkir asked Zimzod what the recovery plan was?  Zimzod said he'd capture it with Rol's help and they'd drag it into the cargo bay.  Emkir asked if their grav-lifters would be of any help recovering the object and Zimzod said he didn't think so.  He also said he wasn't sure if the grav-lifters were still in the cargo bay, because he didn't know if Rol checked them?  He did say they'd been stored in the bay before the satellite exploded.  Zimzod pointed out, the grav-lifters were to create local zero-g points and let them move heavy items.  But the object they were going out to recover was already in zero-g.  So, the idea was redundant.

Done with the checking, talking and planning, Emkir and Terin moved the ship to within five kilometers of the object.  That matched the distance they'd been told to move into when they approached the satellite by Petty Officer Vedsky.  Oddly, that matched their satellite approach the first time while Rol and Zimzod made their way to the cargo bay.  From that point, with the object appearing to be some distant debris, Zimzod talked Emkir and Terin in and they nudged the ship slowly and carefully closer.  Eventually, they matched vee and vector half a mile away from the target.  It looked like some kind of panel.  Figuring that was the best they were gonna get without a "hands on" investigation, Zimzod and Rol used their maneuvering systems to cross to the debris.

When they'd closed, both men realized it was a panel and some of the innards from the exploded satellite.  At the best estimate, they guessed it was something more than one sixth of the original device.  They were also guessing it wouldn't entirely fit in their cargo bay if they had to return it to Regina.  A first run over the device showed there were locked panels which still contained components, so there was no way to just dismiss the remains as not valuable.  Seeing that, both men agreed they had to haul it back to the California and ask the folks back on Regina what they wanted the crew to do with it?

Before they moved it, Zimzod and Rol checked the entire device over to make sure there were no obvious or possible explosive devices on the panel.  From what they could see, every part of the panel was completely inert.  After that examination, they sent video back to the California and Emkir joked that it had been a good thing the ship's cargo bay door had been blown off.  That let them secure the panel into the bay while part of it stuck out the rear of the ship, because it was just too large to entirely fit inside.  Aali joked about creating a cluster of red LED's to stick on the trailing point, as a warning to anyone closing on them.  Mikah joked about getting a red flag and someone brought up Zimzod's red shirt.

After checking the panel out, the crew decided Zimzod and Rol could move it into the cargo bay and secure it.  With that done, Emkir and Terin could start to decelerate and bring the ship down to zero vee.  That would let them turn back and re-trace their course back to the gas giant at a more sedate speed.  Still, that would take some time, because they'd been constantly accelerating out to catch the panel.  It also meant they'd have to spend quite a few hours getting back to the gas giant and the SDB base.  Happily, they'd be joined by the two on-coming SDB's sooner too.  Starting several hours of deceleration burn, they called back to the system defense boats and base to update them on the situation before sending a data packet back to Regina Prime too.

After Emkir sent his messages, the ship got an update from the SDB's which had clearly been sent much earlier, arriving when it did thanks to delays caused by distance.  The message notified the California that two new contacts had jumped in-system much closer to the gas giant.  While traffic at either of the system's gas giants would not be an unusual event, especially in a system as busy as Regina, Emkir thought it was odd the SDB commander would notify them about it.  Glancing at their sensors, it was even more odd because the new arrivals were far enough off to have not registered on their sensors.  Because of that, Emkir decided to hit the 'all ship' comms and let everyone know about this update.  Responding almost immediately, Rol acerbically said, "We're saved!"

Mikah asked if the new arrivals were friendlies and Emkir said he didn't know.  He then explained what little he'd gotten from the SDB commander.  Handling internal and external comms, Emkir asked the locals if the new arrivals were friendly or not?  Despite there being no chance the new arrivals could suddenly appear anywhere close to the California, Fesic announced he was stepping away from his post to get into his combat armor.  Hearing that, Terin reminded Fesic the new arrivals were not on their sensors, or anywhere near their ship.  Emkir asked if Terin wanted to take shifts while they each got into vacc suits and Terin dryly said he thought they all had plenty of time to get into armor if it was needed.  His tone made it clear he was sure it wouldn't be needed.  Ignoring Terin's self-assurances, Emkir said he still wanted to have his suit on, if not fully buttoned up.

An Interesting Destination

     The crew had finally secured the drifting panel and been burning to change their vector.  Emkir and Terin had thought it best to both decelerate and "bend" their flight vector back towards the gas giant.  They'd been burning hard for over two hours when they got an update from the SDB's.  They were told it would still be hours before they'd see the new arrivals on their sensors.  Emkir knew this estimate was based on the assumption they had civilian sensors, but that still meant they'd be hours out.  Just less hours than the SDB officer was assuming.  Like earlier, Emkir chose to keep their sensors secret a closed one for the time being.  There was still no information on who else might be out there listening?

Some of the news from the SDB's was positive, because both new arrivals were broadcasting transponders.  That suggested they were simply merchant ships passing through.  The less than pleasing news was the two ships hadn't responded to any hailing from the Regina defensive ships.  That suggested any number of issues, a good many of which were not good at all.  Considering that, Terin decided to send a message to the SDB commander suggesting they remain on alert because the ships they were tracking might not actually be merchant ships.  Especially after the surprise vessel rising from the gas giant.  When the expected delay at light speed burned off, the answer Terin got back was that these vessels were flying with transponders active.

In the commander's very "correct" response, he pointed out that the circumstances were very different and the merchanters were operating with transponders having just jumped in-system.  He didn't also mention there were ten other SDB's in the squadron who would deal with the arrivals if something went wrong.  So they had that and the significant distance from their location in-system.  When he asked Terin what information the Hotel California had on the arrivals they could not even detect, Terin said it was, "just a gut feeling."  Terin didn't even get an answer to that.  Especially since the Navy's math said they were four hours out from seeing the on-coming SDB's on sensors.  Again, the crew of the California knew better but didn't say anything.  It was also six hours before they'd reach a "zero departure" point where they'd turned back enough to be on approach for the gas giant.

Beyond that, it would take at least ten hours to burn back to the gas giant, thanks to the turning burns they were adding to their vector.  With little else to do except repair and recovery, the crew settled in, taking naps as possible but not splitting into shifts because they expected to have both backup and time on their side.  Some hours into the run, they picked up the SDB's on scan and watched the vessels close.  By the six-hour mark, they'd finally been able to devote all of their thrust to a burn back to the gas giant and to the SDB base.  The system defense boats had planned their approach so they could match vectors easily with the Hotel California.  The element was led by Lt. Commander Iirzaum Kiarpa, who commanded the INRS Gonzo, and which was supported by the INRS Shark.

Over the six hours, Aali had been better able to refine her report on the combat damage.  Because they had to make the transit back to Regina in normal space, she concentrated on the damaged fuel tanks.  While the jump fuel tanks had been lightly damaged, Aali confirmed Terin's math.  They could only fuel up for three and a half weeks of flight with a plus or minus of days based on thrust efficiency, the effects of in-system gravity fields and actual performance due to the combat damage.  That meant the line they had to cross was razor thin, and not getting across would mean death before anyone could reach them to offer support.  Not something to guess at.

After the ship met up with the SDB's, Zimzod decided he was going to sleep because he'd been up ten hours.  Following him, Emkir secured his post and went to grab sleep too.  Shortly after he racked out, the ship got a message from Regina Prime, responding to their initial reports.  Mikah was told Regina Military Command had ordered the SDB base command to offer all reasonable support, but reminded Mikah their ability to assist would be limited.  The Admiralty also offered to send a large in-system freighter out to give the California "a ride" back to Regina if they wanted?  Of course, that would take weeks of waiting for the freighter to arrive and then more weeks of riding in the freighter's cargo bay.  After considering the offer, Mikah decided they'd see how much they could repair the ship before deciding.

Burning in system, Terin finally detected the transponders of the two ships they'd been told about, thanks to the light-speed of radio transmission.  The ship's radio sensor suite painted them on the bridge system schematic and they certainly appeared to be headed toward the gas giant.  When he told Mikah, she said that made sense if they were just merchanters heading to refuel.  They were as far out, and taking as much time as they were, because they'd jumped into the region of the gas giant, so they had to burn into orbit.  Seeing nothing was happening, Rol also went to sleep and Terin spent his time plotting the courses for the supposed merchants, devoting some extra awareness to them.

Terin didn't mind the attitude since tracking the transponders was a good exercise and a decent way to burn off the time spent just driving a straight line through space.  At least, it was until one of the transponders stopped reporting!  Noting that, Terin double checked his math to be certain the two ships had been far enough away from the California to present no immediate threat.  This assured him there were hours before anyone in their region of the gas giant's system could reach them.  Added to that, the SDB's which had joined them were technically in the lead, so they were between the ship and anyone who would be coming in their direction from the gas giant.  Qualifying his data, Terin confirmed the transponder wasn't close enough to the gas giant to have been lost during a fuel scoop run.

Counting The Wounds

     Satisfied his opinion had been justified, Terin sat and waited for word to come from the Gonzo.  When the call did come in, Commander Kiarpa advised Terin the Navy recommended they maintain their present course and not make any changes without requesting clearance first.  Knowing what he did, Terin decided to go fishing and asked why he would want to change course?  The answer he got was that the SDB's planned to sandwich the California between them for additional security.  Still fishing, Terin said he was "starting" to get worried, and asked why they planned to surround the California?  The simple answer that came back was, "There is no reason for you to be worried at all."  That was followed up with the advice to "Just remain calm and follow instructions."

Deciding this was escalating in ways he wasn't comfortable with, Terin comm'd Mikah and said, "Get up here" when she woke and demanded "What?" in a querulous voice.  Having been woken quickly via comms many times, Mikah managed to catch the urgent and borderline panicked tone in the pilot's voice.  Saying she would be right there, Mikah threw some clothes on and headed for the bridge.  There, Terin explained the situation quickly, helped because Mikah was a qualified pilot too.  Mikah could see from Terin's plot that no matter what they did, the transponder and missing transponder were going to reach the gas giant much sooner than the California would.  Despite that, they'd gotten a little closer to that region of space and Mikah told Terin to go to active sensors.

It took time, due to the distance, but, at the very edge of their range, Terin and Fesic could just see two hits in the region of the transponder on the main and weapons sensors respectfully.  From what they could tell, which was very little, they could see the two pings were in a formation which was much tighter than was usual for merchant ships of different lines.  Everyone decided there was some piracy afoot and Mikah said the best they could hope for was that the two ships were both pirates and were attacking each other.  After that, Mikah approved Terin's plan to follow the instructions from the military.  When Mikah asked if he'd asked if the SDB's had called for backup, Terin said he didn't want to tip their hand on what they knew.

With an amazing amount of will power, Mikah kept from thwapping Terin upside the head and reminded him they sent the California messages making them aware "something" was up.  That meant they'd know "something" was up and ask questions like, "Have you called for backup?"  She then ordered Terin to ask Commander Kiarpa if he'd called back to his base and asked for backup?  In a message to the INRS Gonzo, Terin said, "My Captain is now worried, because you've issued us instruction and told us not to worry, and we think something might be happening."  With that as a foundation, Terin said his Captain wanted to know if they'd called for backup?  In response, Terin received the message, "Don't worry about it.  We're closing on your ship and we'll escort you in.  Nothing to be worried about." in a confident voice.

At the same time, Terin and Fesic both picked up three new contacts whose transponders suddenly flared into existence!  These were closer in to the gas giant than the "merchant ships", and registered as both "Military" and "Regina Navy".  So they were additional SDB's, and their vector appeared to be an intercept course for the "merchants".  That was also obviously a show of force, since most SDB's were either 'showing the flag' or operating covertly to surprise enemy forces or ships operating illegally.  In response to this sudden wave of incoming warships, the presumed pirate with the working transponder started altering their course.  Terin watched and plotted data, and it looked like they wanted to tangent the gas giant's atmosphere and make a "high speed" refueling run "through" the atmosphere!

Wanting to grab more sleep, because they were in no danger at all where they were, Mikah told Terin to continue following instructions from the SDB's and keep eyes on the sensors.  Terin also kept tracking the ship whose transponder had gone silent, by sensors only.  It looked like that ship was continuing on their original vector and Terin wondered if they could turn?  Or, if the crew were still alive?  The tactic of tangenting the atmosphere of a gas giant was a desperation move Terin remembered from the war.  It suggested someone on the pirate's flight crew was a vet, which wouldn't be surprising.  Pushing things even more off center were the periodic encouraging calls from the SDB's to reassure the California's crew.

Time passed and Terin kept his eyes on everything he could.  Taking up close and personal vis-light sensor captures of the INRS Gonzo and Shark, Terin could tell they'd seen a "lot" of action and had some "interesting" repair work done.  Given this was the Regina system, some of those repairs may well have been the result of battle damage fighting the Zhodani siege forces during the Fifth Frontier War.  Evaluating the ships, Terin had to wonder how many of the crew had shared the experiences of the vessels they served on?  While the universe closed in range to that which a civilian suite could see, Terin asked about the three additional military transponders and was told they were SDB's from the same squadron.

Still, Terin did his best to try and mine for information long after it was made very clear he wasn't going to get more than promises they would escort the California into the base and that the ship's crew should relax and not worry.  After he'd finally kicked the dead horse, chopped it up and pushed the chunks out of the air-lock, Terin sat back and flew.  Soon enough, the crescent of the gas giant occluded their sensor view of the unidentified merchant ships.  Then, while those who'd gone to sleep came back on line, they were able to track the SDB base.  That base was an orbital station with a central core distributed inside multiple 'dock and support' modules and an impressive number of weapons emplacements.  Scans of the station's structural supports, while making their approach, suggested the entire station might actually be able to descend into the gas giant's upper atmosphere to hide!

Despite the many modules, there were surprisingly few supporting internal bays that could be pressurized to work on damaged ships.  Because of the orders from Regina prime, the station commander had ordered the California be serviced in one of those bays.  Making their approach, Fesic brought up the idea that they should try to salvage parts from the ship they believed had been pirated.  The first answer he got was that the location of the ship was a number of additional hours away.  So, they couldn't reach that site unless he wanted to spend more days to get there.  Terin also pointed out the supposed wreck was headed for the gas giant and the odds they'd reach it before it fell into the atmosphere were low.  And arriving there, they had no legal rights to the wreck.  So, if they did try to salvage anything, they would be breaking the law.

With all but a few of the crew tired from a very long day, they arrived at the SDB base and were directed into an internal bay, which was then sealed and pressurized.  After the California was secured, they met with the base officers, who confirmed they would help as much as they could.  They also pointed out that their resources were limited where jump capable ships like the California were involved.  They first had medical personnel move Munarshu to their medical facilities.  They gave Aali access to all their engineers, assuming none of the SDB's also needed repairs after their trip out to investigate the merchants.  Happy for the support, Aali dove in with the idea of disconnecting one or more of the jump drive fuel tanks and cross-connecting it to their "normal space" fuel system so they could make the passage from Elazair to Assiniboia.  The base could also repair their damaged fuel tanks, so that would extend them past the normal four weeks.

Aali took control of that while Fesic asked if they should call Regina and find out what to do with the remains of the satellite?  Mikah and Zimzod agreed they should do that.  Now that they were on the subject of the panel, they decided to go back into the bay where the ship sat and take an actual look at the panel.  When they let the base officers know what they planned, they were told bay personnel had tested the panel and determined it was 100% inert, so they could safely go there without protective gear.  From a casual view, they could see core electronic systems which had been ripped open.  But, they could also see external doors covering locked but secure bays still containing unknown electronic modules.  So, there might well be some value in the debris.

Along with everything they'd talked about with the base officers, they'd gotten the most comments about the red-dyed shirt Zimzod had put on the end of the panel as it stuck out of their cargo bay, with a string of red LED's on it.  But, after some time eye balling both the panel and the damage to the ship, the crew were ordered out of the bay so it could be decompressed again.  The bay workers told them there was an SDB inbound with combat damage.  Hearing that, they moved to the observation gallery overlooking the repair bay, designed to let engineers and command evaluate damaged ships and plan repairs.  The gallery also had a viewport allowing them to look outside the base, where three SDB's were returning with one towing a hulk behind it.

Getting The Story And More

     Looking over the hulk, it looked like some kind of modified merchant ship.  Aside from its role, they could also see it was more than a bit 'dented and dinged up', and someone had certainly messed with its paintjob more than a bit.  Aali murmured, "It didn't go 'splodie." even as they realized they didn't know if this was the ship who's transponder had stopped or the other ship?  Again missing the point they had no legal claim to anything, Fesic wondered if the ship had a jump drive system, with the thought of plunder.  Outside that, the ship had holes in its hull, so there could be damage, but Terin reminded them the ship did jump into the system so it had a jump drive system.  The question was, did that system still work and would that matter?

None of them knew the status of the ship.  It could have been the attacker and been seized, or it could be the victim and belong to some trading firm who was going to have to call their insurance company and pray.  Nodding at Terin's comment, Zimzod said, "We had a jump drive and now we don't.  Terin corrected him, saying, "We still have most of a jump drive.  We just need parts."  Evaluating the situation as the peanut gallery tried to aggravate someone's allergies, Mikah decided she wanted to go and talk to the base commander.  From him, she learned the ship had initiated an unprovoked attack on the other, actual, merchant ship.  That ship had been left in the possession of her surviving crew to complete their run and report back to their owners.

This ship, thanks to the sensor data feed to the SDB station and Duchy by the satellites and responding SDB's had been seized.  The late crew would also be convicted as part of the proper legal proceedings.  After inspectors boarded her and resolved all the legal issues aboard, the ship would be marked with a transponder and held near the station by a buoy android.  It would then wait until a ship came from Regina Prime, and it would be hauled off as the property of the Dutchy.  Thanking the officer, Mikah went back and told the others they'd have to wait to talk to the Duchess, which would take a number of weeks.  Her plan was to get permission to take parts from this ship to fix theirs if they were compatible.  When she said that, Emkir quietly reminded her the inspection team hadn't gone aboard the ship yet.

Nodding and admitting she knew that without suggesting she knew what he was on about, Mikah waited for Emkir to explain?  Emkir said that the team would document everything that was aboard when they went over.  But, if they didn't document everything they saw, or were paid to not see, some of the things which were there could be removed...  Perhaps that could happen if, maybe, someone needed a boost to their retirement fund?  When Mikah misunderstood and suggested they could possibly talk the base commander into letting them loot the pirate ship captain's safe, Emkir said that would be too obvious to hide.  But combat damage, which Emkir said as he held up air quotes, might explain why parts of their jump drive are missing.  Emkir didn't even need to wink when he finished.

Ironically, Mikah realized what Emkir was on to when Zimzod said he wanted to do things right and go through channels to request permission.  But, Mikah knew they were facing millions of credits for their repairs so she cut Zimzod off and said, "Emkir?  You're up.  We need bribery, we need spare parts and we need the cooperation of the base commander."  For a shopping list, Mikah told Emkir to speak to Aali.  Emkir checked with Aali and then moved off to do what he could and Mikah went to the base medical section to check on Munarshu.  There, she was told he'd come out of the drugs fairly soon and wouldn't be held too long.  He'd gotten some nasty burns, but that would have to take time to heal.  They also said that he'd been thrown, which had re-aggravated the rib damage he'd suffered earlier.  Over a month old, those injuries had never healed because he'd been battered again and again.

While Mikah checked with the medical staff, Emkir slipped into "The Admiral" mode and wandered over to the bay chief.  He figured the Lieutenant would be in charge of bringing the hulk in and would manage the inspection teams and other investigations of the hulk.  But, as he tried to work his craft, the Lieutenant worried that everyone knew a bit of everything, because it was such a small station.  The second he whispered into someone's ears that they should let a blind eye slide past certain systems, that would spread.  Soon, he'd lose all trust and authority because everyone would wonder where he was violating regs next?  Shrugging, Emkir moved on to the man's boss, the Operations Commander.  Sadly, that man was also not willing to take any risks he didn't have the authority to cover up enough to protect himself.

Understanding their positions despite his crew's need, Emkir went to let Mikah know he wasn't getting any traction.  Mikah, who'd just finished up in medical, getting their reports and doing a check-up of her own, just told him to ignore the ranks and go right to the top.  While the others were scared because they had no authority, the base commander did have that authority.  And he had orders to help them to the extent he and his people could.  So, he had an excuse and they just had to figure out what his 'need' was?  Mikah and Emkir quietly planned while mapping out what they knew of the officer?  While he'd risen to command of a station, it wasn't so high as it might seem.  That was because Regina was a wonderful posting, but he'd been sent to the ass end of the system.  And, at his age, he was at the end of his military career.  So, he was looking at retirement and might be interested in lining his nest egg a bit.

Thinking about their funds, Mikah suggested they try KCr 150.  When she did, Terin protested that was much too much, and Mikah reminded him it was a lot less than ten million credits!  Emkir nodded and said he'd see what he could do before leaving them, on his mission.  In the commander's ward room, Emkir was already in the officer's good graces.  Working carefully, Emkir started with some questions about the level of activity in the area, based on both the attack on the California and the pirate strike.  Emkir also made sure to suggest this was a possible deficiency of the system-wide defense strategy, making it seem to the local Admiral that the Imperial Admiral was offering him an escape path.  If he thought Emkir might suggest gaps which the commander could then take to his superiors, his insight might see him promoted back to a post on Regina Prime!

Using that path to earn the man's trust, Emkir then played on the egos and possible reactions of those who plan such strategies.  That and the danger of having to be sure one had well enough padded accounts to fall back on in the event senior officers turned against him.  Emkir was even able to play a bit on his own history, where his impossible final assignment had been played as some fault of his own on Porozlo.  The Commander saw this as Emkir taking him even deeper into his confidences.  Only then did Emkir start edging into the region of "favor for favor".  When it finally came down to cold hard cash, Emkir made his offer and found the man's avarice all too ready to rise to the occasion, and the commander asked for KCr 500!

Leaning back, Emkir considered the man and then reminded him that such large sums of cash would have to have the approval of the Captain of the Hotel California.  He also played along the common issues of secret keeping, not to mention banking and funds transfer.  When that seemed to end things, because it was too dangerous, and the officer became obviously unhappy, Emkir 'rode to the rescue'.  He said it was lucky the California carried a small stockpile of hard currency in the captain's safe.  The base commander was instantly alert and interested again.  Doing his best to hide his hopes, the officer asked how much currency the ship had aboard and Emkir decided to try a gambit.  When Emkir said, "We have Three Hundred thousand", the base commander stopped and considered.  Finally, the man locked eyes with Emkir and said, "Then that will be where we settle."  Figuring the crew were trying to avoid a ten million credit repair job, Emkir figured Mikah would approve of that.  So, he reached out his hand, Solomani style, and they shook to seal the deal.

After that, the officer said he'd have to work out the orders needed, to free up the crew.  And for his station's engineers to board the ship and take what would be needed.  Additionally, he made it clear he would have to put security personnel aboard the ship, and the crew of the California would be restricted to the hulk's engineering spaces.  This would be, as the man was already thinking ahead, because they had been ordered to help the California as much as possible.  So, 'allowing spare parts harvesting' could be covered under that order.  After publishing the order, he expected Admiral Meshrumiikiim would have talked to his Captain and recovered the cash in physical Imperial bills.  Emkir agreed and was glad Mikah had stowed an amount of physical bills in the ship's safe and not converted them to electronic funds.

In the end, Aali was selected as the expert on jump systems and was sent aboard the hulk to identify what had to be removed under the support order?  Then, Aali would supervise as the military engineers would salvage parts.  At the same time, Munarshu should have recovered enough he could manage their 'droids and support the teams working on the California's fuel tanks, and even working on the hull plating when that started becoming available.  After the decisions were made, but before anyone entered the hulk, Mikah took Aali aside and reminded her they were not necessarily jump trained.  So, Mikah suggested, if Aali saw anything of value she thought she could get away with, she was to do so.  Aali was less certain about that because the engineers might well have been trained on, and even have served on, starships in the past.  Even if they weren't working on jump-capable ships and systems "now".  So, trying to pull a fast one might damage the situation.

The crew were soon given quarters aboard the station and allowed to sleep and recover for the rest of the day.  Over the following three days, Aali worked with Munarshu and the station engineers to evaluate what they had to get done and what supplies they needed.  She also worked with the station's senior engineers on evaluating the jump systems of the captured pirate.  The good news from that ship was that their jump systems were intact, if maintained poorly.  While the work happened, the rest of the crew learned what had happened between the merchant and pirates.  When the two ships had jumped in, the pirate made a "friendly call" to the merchant saying they'd seen the local system defense boats were active elsewhere in the system.

The merchanter said they didn't see that activity and chalked it up to better sensors on the one ship.  Especially when the pirate sent video over comms to show what they saw.  Claiming that meant there may be other hazards in-system and the SDB's wouldn't be able to help them, the pirate Captain invited the merchanter to fly in close formation.  That would let them share weapons coverage if attacked.  What the merchanter didn't know was that the pirate Captain thought the SDB's were too busy and too far off to get in his way.  Getting the merchant to close in, and with his guns heated up "just in case", he thought his people could easily disarm and subdue the merchanter and raid her cargo before refueling and escaping.  Unfortunately for the pirates, he didn't count on a larger SDB presence at the secondary gas giant.

After the ships moved into close formation, the pirate gave the order and took out the merchanter's communications array and weapons turrets.  Disarmed and isolated under the guns of the pirate, the merchant Captain had no choice when he was told, "Surrender and we'll let you and your crew live."  Especially when the unspoken alternative was to be killed before the pirates took what they wanted anyway.  Then, the pirates worked the merchanter over, taking not only the ship's cargo but any other valuables they found and all the cash they could find.  While that happened, they were unaware of the reason why two SDB's had been deployed to the space near the California.

Normally, the SDB squadron the California were dealing with only deployed six of their twelve ships.  Four more were usually on standby with one inactive and the crew of the last on leave on Regina Prime.  Still, there were enough crew that all ships could be fully activated by mixing and matching some crew and base staff.  After the explosion and attack on the California, the entire squadron had gone on alert along with two sister squadrons nearby.  That meant there were more than enough ships to investigate every oddity when data from the sensor satellites signaled the arrival of two more ships.  Not wanting to risk anything, a flight of ships were dispatched to make sure they didn't encounter any misadventures.  They didn't expect one of the new arrivals to try something so stupid in the Regina system.

Additionally, when Sir Terin called from the Hotel California with his warning.  The SDB spacers laughed because Sir Terin seemed to think they were idiots who didn't know their business.  Likely because he was an idiot himself.  His lack of awareness of what professional system defense forces did made it easier to believe he might not really be the military hero his war record suggested.  That meant that there were three SDB's bearing down on their flight path when the pirates looted the merchant.  Using a schematic delivered by the defensive satellites meant the military could vector directly in on the situation without showing up on anyone else's scanners.  By the time the SDB's registered on the pirate's scanners, it was late in the game.

Calling his people back quickly, the pirates now had a big reason to keep their word and not kill the merchant crew.  Their Captain and navigator put together a risky plan to burn hard, accelerate and pass through the top of the gas giant's atmosphere in as straight a flight path as possible while sucking in as much fuel as they could.  Then, without waiting to refine it, they would burn hard for the 100 diameter limit and jump with the navigator looking for la grange points as they moved.  That plan only changed slightly when the SDB flight commander announced the pirate's course looked to be bringing them into the playing field of one of his sister squadrons after they traded shots.

Seeing they were stuck in a trap, the pirate decided to try to surprise the SDB's, and hopefully find a hole in the slipknot.  Closer in, they saw that wasn't going to happen for many reasons, including the significant experience surviving SDB spacers had gained during the Fifth Frontier War.  While many of the crews had been filled in with newer and younger recruits, they were almost all commanded by veterans of the war who'd either fought the Zhodani siege and defended the system or retired from other military services to live in the Regina system.  Following that brief and intense battle, the surviving pirates had been stripped of their vacc suits and armor before being escorted out an air-lock.  After they were dealt with, it was confirmed the merchant ship crew had mostly survived, short a gunner, and their cargos were confirmed, to be returned to that Captain.

Getting Everyone Moving

     After any successful capture, the "killing ship" or formation would get a bounty for their take down.  Of course, capture by a single crew meant more cash in the bounty because it wasn't shared.  The captured ship would be seized and added to the Duchy's fleet of on-hand vessels.  This was one of the reasons few were on board with disabling the pirate's jump system.  Ships captured with a fully working jump plant were more valuable than any other.  So, questions would have to be answered on why this ship's jump systems had been scavenged?  That was an interesting tidbit because the Hotel California had actually been one of those ships from this very fleet.

Getting back to business, the SDB commanders had returned the identified and stolen goods from the merchanter to her Captain and crew.  That ship, the Far Trader IMV Kama Ginsha was now re-rigging the ship and carrying out some repairs before they would visit the station.  After they arrived and were ready, they'd be refueled as a courtesy and given a combat escort back to Regina Prime to work with their owners, the port and their insurance company to compete repairs and fill out holes in their crew.  Mikah was told that, if they wanted and were also ready at the same time, the California could join that convoy and she liked the idea.  One of the ships the commander could spare was a vessel which took several nasty engineering hits.  She'd need repair at Regina Prime after a week's work on-station.

Some of the other ships took minor damage, so Aali saw her engineer pool reduced.  They'd also had to share a bit when the Kama Ginsha arrived.  On the California, Aali confirmed they'd lost two jump capacitors entirely and had to replace two more which were damaged.  When it turned out one of the station engineers had worked an Imperial Naval cruiser in a past life, he came up with the idea of "swapping" the two damaged capacitors to make it less apparent the captured pirate had been looted.  This earned him the good will of his commanding officer even while it showed the crew of the California exactly how fast word got around.  That alone justified the caution shown by the first two techs Emkir had tried to corrupt.  It also told them that there would be no doubt the entire base quietly knew what had happened, and how much they owed to the silence of everyone stationed there.

Outside the work, the crew were treated as those who'd survived an attack and also as servants of the Duchy and also as visiting Imperial nobles.  So, they were given open access to the station except certain sensitive and "operations only" locations.  They also got to spend time and share drinks with those on-station or visiting from one of the local SDB's.  Munarshu woke in moderate pain and realized he wasn't aboard the ship!  He also noticed he could see and feel a number of points where his skin was coated in a gel that, when he looked at one spot, looked like "burn gel".  Exploring his situation, he realized he couldn't see all the affected spots on his body to assess what happened?  About that time, a med-tech came into the compartment.  She explained to Munarshu what had happened to him and their treatment for his wounds.

After he was awake, Mikah was called and she eventually arrived and did her own personal brand of check up.  That led to a number "ow!" exclamations when she poked his burns and asked, "Does this hurt?"  He then spent a day recovering before he was released, and some of the crew visited Munarshu and even joked that it was his fault they had to replace some jump capacitors.  Having been out cold, that was news to the engineer and Munarshu wondered how bad things were?  After being released, a day after their arrival, Munarshu was told he had to remain on light duty, both because of his burns and the repeated damage to his ribs.  If he didn't allow them to heal once and for all, the bones would be weakened and he could suffer a traumatic break under otherwise moderate conditions.

When the doctor said no one wanted to see him puncture a lung after an accidental fall, Mikah corrected, "Almost no one".  Still, she had to admit that she'd prefer not to see it as she'd be his surgeon if that happened.  Rejoining his crew and getting back to work, Munarshu eventually learned about the deal they'd cut with the station commander.  Assigned to lead the work on the California's fuel systems, Munarshu toured the ship and got a first hand understanding of the damage to the hull and internal systems.  After the change in direction, Munarshu suddenly found himself in charge of removing their damaged capacitors so they could be re-installed in the pirate and not appear to have obviously been swapped.

This also forced them to remove hull plating too, and that could be done in sheets around combat damaged sections, to be re-used on the pirate ship.  In those places, the sheets would have to be blasted enough on both ships to prevent paint remnants from proving the theft.  The biggest laugh came when Mikah said they'd celebrate Munarshu's recovery by having Rol cook dinner.  Munarshu just said, "That's OK.  He can cook dinner for you." and planned to have a foil pack on his own.  That showed he was still carrying a grudge since Rol's breakfast prank over month before.  Still, even with Munarshu back on the team, it wasn't until the 121st day of the year that they finished up the major work and closed up the hull plating to pressurize all the California's compartments except the cargo bay.  They then spent two more days on-station working on the ship's jump systems while the station and ship's crew finished work on the Kama Ginsha.

Getting On With Life

     While the crew of the Hotel California worked with the crews of the SDB base, Aiden's nurses and physical therapists worked him for his last day of in-facility PT.  Despite this being his last day there, they didn't go light.  Still, they did give Aiden time, during the morning, to make his plans.  Checking with the port, Aiden was eventually able to find high passage on the IMV Aveley, a cargo-hauling passenger liner which was bound to the Risek, Inthe and Yori systems before calling in the Regina system.  If he didn't find faster transport on another ship, this berth wouldn't be a bad choice.  After he booked that passage with the newly delivered High Passage ticket from TAS, Aiden hoped he'd find another ship in the Risek system leaving sooner than the Aveley.

If Aiden didn't find a ship leaving before the Aveley completed her resets, he'd have to spend a week renting space on the Risek system starport station before moving on.  And, given Aiden's memories of the last time he'd spent in that system, the less the better as far as he was concerned.  With a berth out of Rhylanor port, leaving early that evening, Aiden would have time after his PT to do some light shopping and organize everything he needed.  That included a call to the Seneschalate to let them know about his booking and plans.  When he told them about the Aveley, they offered to have his message casings transferred to the Captain's safe aboard that ship.  Since that saved Aiden time, he was all for it and thanked the technician.

During his 'lunch break', Aiden decided to log onto the InstellArms network site and do a bit of last minute shopping.  Hoping for more weapons options when dealing with the different laws in various systems, Aiden hoped to find less lethal guns.  Eventually, he fixed on the idea of a snub rifle, and saw several versions made by various manufacturers on offer.  After evaluating the different models, Aiden chose an LSP "Hunter 450" semi-automatic for Cr 500 and started looking at the ammo he could buy for it.  Like his pistol, he could buy Ball, HE, HEAP and Tranq rounds along with other specialty rounds for varying prices.  One thing Aiden liked about the weapon was that it shared clips with the snub pistol he'd bought.  While the clips wouldn't fit his custom weapon, he didn't need to buy too much extra ammo.  Still, he did buy two clips of ball ammo for the rifle for a final bill of Cr 600.

After Aiden bought the rifle, he set up to have InstellArms deliver the weapon and ammo to the Aveley, to be stowed aboard.  Done with the last of his physical therapy, Aiden planned to spend his travel time digging through the news data he'd collected for any better idea of what the Hotel California's crew had been doing?  He also planned to spend time reading and watching selections from the liner's on-board entertainment package on his stateroom's in-built screens.  In between that, Aiden planned to work several hours each day on his stent with the classes he had.  He also still had to finish up at the rehab facility, which was exactly all the fun it was intended to be.  Finally, Aiden was released and worked with an aide to pack and prepare his gear to get moving.  From there, with his gear moved using a small grav-sled, they called a cab and Aiden was off to the starport.

Delivered to the port, Aiden was helped until he arrived at customs.  There, Aiden was able to check on his other deliveries when he handed over his paperwork and stepped through the process of departure preparations.  From there, a port-kart was called and Aiden was driven to the boarding corridor for the IMS Aveley.  That ship was over the 2,000 D-ton size, and too large for the small ship berths, so it had landed on an open-pad berth connected to the port by the passage.  At the corridor entrance, Aiden was met by the ship's Chief Medical Officer, who was also the ship's Fourth Mate.  The doctor was also the ship's Chief Steward, and stood ready with a junior Steward, to help Aiden aboard.  The junior took control of Aiden's luggage and other details while the Doctor confirmed with Aiden that his deliveries were aboard.  Those included both the packages from the Seneschal's office and InstellArms.

Aiden was assured he could check on the items from the Seneschalate before they lifted, and discussed his continuing medical situation with the doctor.  Aiden was also told that, while weapons were generally required to be stowed in the ship's locker, he could keep his snub pistol so long as it was loaded with Tranq rounds.  His snub rifle had been received and stowed in the ship's locker.  The Captain also requested Aiden submit his combat armor to be stored in the ship's locker too.  When Aiden agreed to that, he was helped aboard and shown to his stateroom.  From there, he could rest and relax until it was time to visit the Captain's safe.

Completely settling in, Aiden could either spend his time in his stateroom or join the other passengers in the central lounge.  There, they would share a 'departure cocktail' hour and other common entertainments before a late dinner an hour after departure.  Having so completely enjoyed his physical therapy schedule during the previous week, Aiden decided to relax and read while taking dinner in his stateroom and easing into the flight.  Keeping largely to himself, and with the help of the ship's medical staff, Aiden hoped for a nice quiet transfer to the Risek, arriving on 122-1113.  he read, worked on his stent-studies and read when he was not working on physical therapy.  There, Aiden was very much hoping to leave the Aveley for another ship and spend as little time as possible in-system thanks to his memories of the disease and his own crew's local infamy.  The last thing he needed was to be the "local man" facing charges for the actions of his other, in some cases 'late', crew members.

Wasting Time In Risek

     After the IMV Aveley arrived in the Risek system, Aiden used his status as a Courier to drive access to the ships communications systems.  Thanks to his memories from his last visit, Aiden very much wanted to find a berth on a ship leaving that evening, or early the next morning.  That wouldn't only save him time getting to the Regina system, but would reduce his chances of becoming embroiled in any events either new or related to the crew's actions during the Podesta crisis.  Much to his disappointment, the return of Aiden Radetsky of the Hotel California crew, and newly minted Knight of the Imperium, had been made public.  The news slipped when the Aveley broadcast her passenger list to official port and security offices as required.  From there, "someone" must have recognized the name and thought to cash in on that data before it became public.  Regardless if that "cashing in" was for a reputation bump or actual cash, Aiden wasn't pleased when messages started arriving.

Realizing he was going to have to make plans, Aiden called the TAS hotel on the port.  Pushing Aiden from 'annoyed' to 'really pissed off', Aiden's first search for ships bound from Risek to either the Inthe or Treece systems.  Being honest, he'd have preferred to travel through the Treece system.  If only because he'd never even passed through that system, so he had no history there.  From there, he could continue through the Yori or Rech systems respectfully, though traffic through Yori was going to be very light.  By the time the ship docked and Aiden had to leave the ship for the next week, regardless of any preparations he'd made, there was no change on the boards.  Not pleased, Aiden feared there might be either media or legal representatives waiting at the gate when he disembarked.  And he wasn't disappointed.

Leaving the docking corridor and stepping onto the deck plating of the port proper, he saw a trio of port security officers standing in a small cluster with one holding an illuminated electronic placard.  The placard read "Radetsky", and Aiden's shoulders slumped when he realized he couldn't simply duck port security.  Walking up to the trio, Aiden glumly asked, "OK.  What are the charges?"  Not sure what the Knight was referring to, the group came to attention as the lead trooper said, "Compliments of the Port Director, My Lord.  Her Excellency thought you might like a secure ride to your destination on port."  There was a pause while Aiden tried to map out in his mind exactly how bad things were?  Or how likely the team before him were simply trying to get him to a quiet place before taking him into custody?

Finally, Aiden nearly grunted, "Alright.  I'm going to the TAS hotel.  I've booked a room there."  Nodding, the lead trooper told Aiden they would recover his luggage from the Aveley and have the bags delivered to him there.  He then asked Aiden, "If you'll follow me?" and led the way to a valve marked "Port Staff only" off to the side from the gate area.  Aiden turned to follow the man and the other two troopers remained behind to keep traffic moving and discourage those who had stopped to capture vid when they realized "something" was happening.  Aiden was thrilled when he accepted that would be in the local public news all too soon.  After crossing out of the public space, Aiden was surprised to see there was an open and wide corridor following the wall and dropping below the level of the public concourse.  This would let official vehicles to come and go, popping up to the main concourse level only to reach an access valve to public spaces.

There was also a port-kart, which was actually similar to a large plexiglas bubble, waiting for them.  Inside the bubble, Aiden could see comfortable seating for four and a simple control interface.  The bubble's "doors" were actually the sides of the vehicle.  They opened by pivoting on an internal, and somehow invisible, pin at the top of the door.  The door pivoted on the pin and rotated either forward or back until the two doors were raised almost like rabbit ears over the top of the bubble.  The lead trooper guided Aiden to and into the vehicle while one of the other troopers had come through the valve behind them, closing and securing it.  After the doors closed, Aiden could only sit back and wait when the vehicle got moving.

Quickly and efficiently, Aiden rode to the TAS hotel along with the one trooper.  The vehicle was automated, and followed its own internal programming until it delivered Aiden to the hotel.  Notified by port services that Aiden had arrived, and was on his way, a doorman and bell hop were waiting.  Aiden was received from the vehicle in another 'private station' and escorted to an office inside the TAS main level where he was allowed to register for his booked room.  What he'd asked for on the comms was the best they could provide in anonymous.  Aiden knew he'd be spotted if he went out in public, but he didn't want anyone tracking him to where he was staying or, worse yet, getting his comms details!  On his email account, the invitations and other spam were already flowing in at an annoying level.

Aiden had asked for a secluded room in a secured section of the hotel and data to be provided on how he could have his meals and needs provided to him internally.  At best, he hoped to never have to leave the hotel until he either booked passage out-system or, in a worst case scenario, had to return to the IMV Aveley for the flight to the Inthe system.  Arriving in his "room", for which he'd paid Cr 250, he found it was more of an extended suite.  Before he could officially approve of how the Risek TAS Hotel did things, he saw the note from Port Director Wortman.  Opening the note, Aiden found it was a welcome to the system and the port, and a "Thank you" in the form of a paid upgrade to his accommodations.  Aiden read the note three times, to be sure there was no hidden summons or suggested quid pro quo.

Still, when Aiden settled in, he started by accessing the port-net and setting up his searches.  There were no direct major trade links crossing the trace of the spinward main between Risek and Regina, but Aiden knew there were more heavily traveled routes.  And he wanted one that was more traveled if he hoped to catch ships faster than his current booking.  Being honest with himself, Aiden was surprised there weren't more ships departing Risek in the direction he had to go.  But that was life.  Aiden could have left Rhylanor for the Tureded system, but the ships passing through there were more often either jump-1 or 2, or they were stopping at every port along that strand of the main.

So, that had left him the option of jumping to Risek and then to either the Inthe or Rech systems.  From Inthe, he'd be stuck with the run to Regina through the Yori system.  And the odds were there'd be few ships in or out except his booked passage.  From the Rech system, Aiden could hope to find a ship jumping for Regina, but he'd bet more on a ship to the Dinomn system.  From there, he was sure he could find a quick jump to Regina because Dinomn was on a major trade route.  But the Rech system was at best a second or third choice as a trade port, so it didn't pull in a large amount of traffic.  Still, the real benefit of the Rech system was that he'd never actually done more than pass through that system.  And then, he and the crew had tried to sneak the Quasar Viper through the system, and little became public there about him or the rest of the Dawnstar Horizon's crew.

After Aiden setup his search, he checked with the X-mail network, to see if he'd gotten any messages?  With nothing new there, Aiden continued trying to search to see what mischief his crew had gotten into?  Sadly for Aiden, who was sure everyone would recognize the ship and blame them for everything, it seemed they had been involved in very little.  Each time he found an event he was certain they caused, any reading he did on the event would provide many causes which had nothing at all to do with his crew.  And, every time he asked anyone about tracking his crew or ship, he was reminded that the news did not flag every story with "involving" or "not involving" the Hotel California.  Especially when he tended to ask the most general of questions.  Outside of that, Aiden did his stent-work, read his collected data or his books, watched vids and watched the news.  Unfortunately, after spending Cr 200 on food and other needs along with his hotel room for the week, he reboarded the Aveley on Thursday, 129-1113 for the jump to the Inthe system.

The Wild Ride To Regina

     The day after his birthday, Aiden knew exactly what waited for him during a layover in the Inthe system,  He heavily sweated the jump from Risek, keeping up his routine from the first week in jump and layover on the Risek port.  Having devoted more time to his stent than before he'd died, Aiden was making decent progress on that front.  His physical therapy was also coming along as expected, helped along by the ship's doctor.  Aiden's biggest annoyance was the habit the doctor had of setting him mobility goals which forced him to move about the ship and deal with other passengers.  Especially when several couples had "finally" embarked on a "Trip of a Lifetime".  Inspired by the elevation of the Arch Duke, they decided to visit Regina.  A situation which was only exacerbated his situation when they learned he was "Sir Aiden Radetsky", and one of them even remembered hearing of him in the news!  Given the extreme pleasure he'd enjoyed during the jump into Inthe, he was incredibly thrilled at the prospect of spending any time in that system.

Like his trip to Risek, Aiden worked with the ship's crew to make sure he got comms access to the port data as soon as he could, looking for a ride to either Yori or Rech.  And, Aiden was thrilled when he learned the IMV Ani Puumdi was in terminal count down for a jump to the Yori system enroute to Regina!  That meant he'd spend only a few hours transferring his passage to the new ship before they jumped to Yori, to arrive on the 143rd day of the year.  He would not only save himself a week of transit time, but not spend a week playing "target for vengeance" in-system.  The only bad news came when Aiden learned the Ani Puumdi was a smaller more "cozy" ship.  So, there was little doubt he'd be in more regular contact with his fellow passengers on that run.  Still, Aiden was happy to burn one of his reserve High passage tickets to get out of Inthe.

Despite the insanity of the transfer, Aiden did get the x-mail birthday greetings Mikah had sent him.  After Aiden settled with his luggage in his new stateroom, the ship was able to complete cargo and consumable loading before departing the station.  Aiden was so pleased, he even joined the other passengers for the 'sail away' celebration, sitting quietly in a corner of the passenger lounge.  Aiden downplayed his history and did his best to hide his title saying he'd been injured and was returning to Regina after treatment in Rhylanor.  Demurring on exactly what treatment he'd undergone, the passengers did see him being helped by the ship's medical staff during mobility exercises, and gave him lots of space and privacy out of courtesy.  That meant Aiden got to relax a bit, before trying to find a quick departure from the Yori system as they arrived on 143-1113.

Entering Yori space this time was much less exciting for Aiden than the last time.  Of course, that was because there was no brooding and threatening Plankwell dreadnaught and her fleet element in orbit of the world exercising communications silence.  Still, Aiden had worked with the crew to make it clear he needed priority comms access to the port as soon as possible, to see if he could book immediate passage to Regina.  Since he'd already paid and they could possibly double-book his stateroom, the ship's Chief Purser had no issues with that.  And the doctor was up for a nice relaxing jump to Regina if Aiden left while they were on layover.  Because of that, when the ship could spare a comms channel, Aiden hit the shipping boards to look for passage.  If he could get that, he'd arrive in the Regina system on the 150th day of the year.

Reaching out to the port, Aiden started by broadcasting all his titles and granted rights.  Especially where he'd been created a Courier by Duke Leonard of Rhylanor, on a mission to deliver missives to the Duchess of Regina!  Where he'd played it soft and quiet until now, Aiden knew this might make the difference on this jump.  Especially since the assumption of the Duchy meant that Duchess Seldrian Aledon would soon also be assuming the Baronial Patent for the Yori system from her father.  To Aiden's complete surprise, he was told not to worry, and that everything was set to get him on his way to Regina as quickly as possible.  Suddenly, Aiden's paranoia was tingling because this seemed too much like they were waiting for him!

The wait was brief but excruciating for Aiden as the Ani Puumdi made dock and went through her check in's.  Finally, while the ship's crew worked, they routed a message to Aiden that port representatives were waiting for him after they opened the air-locks.  The instructions appeared to have been given to the crew, requiring them to help Aiden debark first.  Available members of the ship's crew arrived at Aiden's stateroom to help him move all his luggage while keeping all the required companion-ways clear for him to move fast.  Aiden asked, while moving, for any details, but was told the crew only knew what he did.  No more.  Finally clearing the air-lock, Aiden was in the lead and quickly came to a stop when he saw what was waiting for him in the gate area.

A team of three crisply uniformed Imperial Naval officers waited outside the air-lock, with one holding a display pad reading "Radetsky".  Seeing Aiden, the armed officers quickly moved forward with widening smiles and Aiden considered his options, realizing he didn't have any.  By that time, the lead officer was almost on him, so Aiden simply stepped forward and introduced himself.  Nodding at the introduction, the lead officer asked, "Your weapons, please.  Sir Radetsky."  Another request Aiden saw no alternatives to, even as he had to wonder what the fuck his crew did to cause this?!  Still, Aiden suddenly returned to the real world when it appeared the officers might be taking his pause as a sign of resistance!

Panicking, he stuttered out, "Hold on, let me hand them over."  Aiden began moving in very slow and obvious movements as he withdrew his pistol first, then his sword.  After Aiden was disarmed, a second officer ran a hand-scanner over his body while the first handed the weapons off to the third officer.  That officer had a briefcase with him which, not surprisingly to Aiden, had foam inserts and accommodated all Aiden's weapons and ammunition clips.  They also took the weapon case containing his snub rifle and scanned his other luggage to insure he had no further weapons.  That done, the second and third officers moved to the side while the first officer again turned to Aiden and said, "You will come with us now."  When Aiden tried to ask where they were going, the officer simply said, "Sir, please follow all instructions so things go as smoothly as possible for you."  That was said in a tone which suggested Aiden didn't want to know what "not smooth" would be?

The good news, while following the lead officer and in turn followed by the other two officers, was that they hadn't zip tied him and officially taken him into custody.  Aiden was then led to a trio of ground effects vehicles and was asked to step into the passenger compartment of the middle vehicle in the line.  When Aiden started to ask who was riding with him, he was interrupted by the officer, who simply but firmly said, "Just, step aboard the vehicle, Sir."  The request was both blunt and not actually a request.  Aiden boarded the GEV and the door was closed while he saw the first officer moving to the lead vehicle and the other two moving to the rear vehicle with his weapons and luggage.  Then, his view was cut off by the vehicle's windows, which were opaque for reasons he didn't know.

Settling in, and certain he was on his way to his execution, Aiden sat back and tried not to hyperventilate while he was driven where ever they were taking him?  Examining the passenger cabin of the vehicle, Aiden realized it was a fairly light model, not surprising for a hover-car, and he could likely break his way out easily enough.  But Aiden was certain he didn't want to give anyone an excuse to start shooting!  Soon enough, the vehicle came to a stop and Aiden waited for the next step in his incarceration to be carried out.  Aiden sat until he heard someone say, "We believe we have your man." and could only think to himself, 'WHAT???'  Another voice said, "Thank you.  Let me verify." in a voice which sounded completely at ease and uncaring.

The vehicle's doors, locked from the inside, eventually opened and Aiden looked out to see the first of the naval officers talking to someone who may have been a technician in any of the many space-borne compartments he'd ever seen.  Around him, and them all, were a casual circle of what were obviously station security.  The technician and officer finished their conversation before the officer turned and asked, "Sir Radetsky.  Would you be so kind as to come here and present your Ident?"  For half a second, as Aiden visualized the Ident being taken away from him and secured.  Aiden considered running for it.  Evaluating his situation, Aiden nodded and did as asked.

After checking his Ident and returning it to Aiden, the technician nodded and thanked the officer.  That man got back in the cart and left and the technician said, "I must apologize for the unfortunate way we secured you from the Ani Puumdi, however we've been charged with making certain you safely transit this system and are delivered to Regina.  Because the message only recently arrived and was of the highest urgency, we decided to move quickly."  Bug-eyed, Aiden only demanded, "AND?!"  Looking back at him, the man asked, "And, what, Sir Aiden?"  Taking a breath, Aiden demanded, "If you've been told to grab me and make sure I'm safely delivered to Regina, there must be a reason.  What's the reason?"  The technician frowned and said, "I'm sorry, but I'm sure I don't know.  The message didn't say."

Shrugging, Aiden asked, "So what now?" and was told the x-boat message had said a ship was in-bound to pick him up.  Sadly, it hadn't yet arrived and they didn't know on what date it had made its jump from the Regina system?  So there was no knowledge of when it would emerge from jump in-system.  When Aiden asked how the authorities on Regina knew he would pass through the Yori system, he was again told they had no information on that.  And, with each blank drawn, Aiden became less and less comfortable with the situation.  Still he knew he was as caught in a trap as any other now-dead creature had ever been.  Aiden was even less pleased when he was escorted to his "quarters" while they waited for his ride to arrive.

Yori was a very minor and simple settlement in the Spinward Marches.  Much of the population remotely worked harvesters from factory vehicles, which traveled the mineral salt plains of the desert world.  Leaving the sealed living and working structures was not frequently done because the mix of minerals and salts in in the air made the bone-dry atmosphere of that desert world even more harsh an experience.  Humans leaving their sealed environments without air-hydration systems would most likely suffer damage to their throats or lungs, and the risk of death from the exposure was high.  The result was that mobile factories traveled the world managing their fleets of remotely operated harvesters, processing the minerals and salts, and only visited the port when they had product to sell.

There were also some Imperial facilities in-system, which Aiden knew from his last visit there.  Those included the covert Imperial Naval "Research Station" which wasn't as covert as the Imperial government would have liked.  A result of all this was that the port itself was highly automated and the downport was more properly geared to movement of cargo pods and goods packaging.  The port population were small and the circumstances at the downport were...BORING.  This wasn't any change from Aiden's last visit here, just after they'd done their part in the Quasar Viper affair and been given the ship now named the Hotel California.  In fact, the ship had been named Pilot Error during that passage.  This time, station authorities intended to make sure his stay was a safe one until his ride arrived, which meant even more isolation and boredom for Aiden.  Disgruntled because he couldn't try to get moving sooner, Aiden was at least pleased to sit, read and wait for a free ride because, at least, it was free.  Then, they'd kill or imprison him on Regina.

It was 145-1113 when Aiden was finally told 'his ship' had just arrived in-system.  Again, he was disarmed and rushed into a port GEV.  There, he and his gear were turned over to a man who was possibly wearing parts of what might have once been a Scout uniform.  Still, the light-skinned man in his mid-forties who was looking down at him in the GEV was clean shaven and kept his hair at a buzz cut.  So, he wasn't a punk or that flavor of criminal, and mostly looked like most scouts Aiden knew.  Aiden still had to wonder who this guy worked for, since the port officials seemed suggested the orders were coming from the Duchess' people directly.  He certainly wasn't a Navy man.  Only Scouts dressed and acted that way on duty.  Nodding down at Aiden, the man said, "That's our boy." while ignoring the port official and told Aiden, "We're getting your gear and putting it aboard.  You can either come aboard with us or we'll leave with your stuff and without you."  Casual as ever, he then turned and ignored Aiden and started crossing a port gate area toward an air-lock!

Sputtering questions all the way, Aiden scrambled out of the GEV and ignored the port official himself while chasing after the man.  Aiden was hoping to find out what flavor of spacer he was?  Reaching the air-lock, the man, who was most likely a scout or merchanter, seemed to pause and Aiden figured that was his big chance to get some information.  Making a grand stand play he wanted to ask who they were and what was going on before he'd be willing to board the ship.  But, when Aiden started speaking, the spacer ignored him at first, keying data into a wall-pad.  Then, he suddenly turned and pulled Aiden into the lock before slapping the release on the control panel.  Smiling at Aiden, he said, "You can board the ship or be caught in the open air-lock when we detach.  Your choice."  All with a carbon-plastic smile on his face.

Cursing while he moved into the lock of the ship proper, whatever ship it was, Aiden again tried to make a stand for information.  His host only hit him again with that smile and said, "We're about to shove off.  I'm heading to the bridge, so you can follow me to the passenger lounge or stay here and enjoy the ride.  It could get bumpy."  Aiden quickly glanced around at the compartment they were in, which seemed to be some sort of ship's machine shop.  That almost brought him up short since he had to ask himself who has an air-lock directly into a ship's working spaces??  Still, he followed the man to the back(or front) of the compartment where a companion-way opened to the right.  Along that, they came to an intersection where hatches led presumably forward and aft.  The man led him to that four way intersection while similarities were screaming inside Aiden's brain.

In front of him was a door which led to some compartment or other while the man turned left through a hatch.  Pausing to quickly looking the opposite direction, Aiden saw engineering systems and realized that was certainly "Aft".  Stepping through the hatch the man had already passed through, he realized the man had been saying something when Aiden tried to catch up.  The man seemed to be gesturing with his right hand while passing through what was obviously a common area and lounge.  He caught the words, "...and strap in.  I'll be forward on the bridge and you are not cleared for that space.  Don't make this quick departure unpleasant."  That's when it hit him.

The single-wide forward passage had two doors to the right and left and ended in a door which he could see led to the ship's bridge.  Adding to that the spaces he'd moved through, his mind came up with the fact he had boarded a type S scout/courier!  This class of ship was the most common class to be found, both in military service and civil use, in the Imperium.  The man moved up between the staterooms towards the bridge and Aiden made to follow him but the man turned and said, "Don't make me shoot you, dude.  As far as I know, you only need to arrive alive."  Aiden shouted at the man, "Arrive where?" but the man entered the bridge and slapped the panel to close the access valve.  The light on the panel then went 'red', showing it had been locked.

Aiden could also feel a number of sensations while the ship seemed to shift attitude ever so slightly and the "hum" of ship's systems changed tone.  These were things Aiden knew very well, having served aboard this class of ship for a good part of his career.  The ship had cast off and started to accelerate.  Aiden had to appreciate how well maintained the ship's inertial compensators were, because he'd barely felt anything at all.  But, with nothing else to do, Aiden figured he could settle in and wait, or try something that could help him explain his situation.  Sadly, the only data he could get from a locked down workstation was that the ship was named the INRS Tuarso Difom.  This told him the ship belonged to the Regina Navy and suggested it was used as a scout craft.

That actually made sense, when he recalled that scouts in the field really didn't have ranks or operate with a hierarchy.  It was only after you got out of the field and into the management, what they called 'the bureaucracy' where they rammed a rod up your ass and your life was over.  Not long after Aiden started scraping up data on his situation, reports started coming from the bridge and the ship's commander.  Aiden was told the ship's crew were three people including a flight crew of two and an engineer.  Soon enough, the ship transitioned to jump and the crew secured from their positions to meet their VIP passenger.

When they did, they found Aiden was exactly the "high blood pressure" type of annoyance they'd expected, given he had a title and all.  When Aiden reacted to their suddenly friendly and relaxed welcome and introductions with a demand to know what exactly was going on, the scout in charge simply leaned in and gave as good as he expected they'd get.  He got into Aiden's face and told the Knight he and his crew had come into Regina port expecting a month's downtime.  They'd been rousted out of the port on a high priority jump to come transport a VIP who might not even be there!  So, as far as they were concerned, he was welcomed aboard unless he didn't want to be, in which case he was free to walk to Regina.  When Aiden apologized and explained what happened to him when his ship docked, the crew of the Tuarso Difom said, 'not our fault'.  They suggested he have a bunch of drinks, relax and enjoy the jump to Regina.  Agreeing to a "restart", they spent some time getting to know each other and Aiden even learned one of them was a trained paramedic.

A fact Aiden would regret after telling them about his physical therapy routine.  Then, the whole crew enthusiastically decided to help him with that over the coming week.  Outside of that, Aiden found the engineer was a three term scout who'd lost her left arm below the elbow during the war.  That wasn't immediately apparent because the arm had been replaced by a pseudo-arm that looked entirely like the real thing until she started taking it apart.  She had the help of another scout aboard, to change the chip in her stent!  That led Aiden to all sorts of questions because she was using her stent specifically for knowledge enhancement.  Aiden got to trade information with her because she'd never considered cloning.  So, outside the punishing PT workouts he'd suffered through, the trip to Regina worked out better than he'd hoped and they arrived in the Regina system on 152-1113.  While he didn't know it, that would be three days after the Hotel California had returned to Regina Prime.

Heading Off To "Funkey" Town

     Preparing to get moving, the word had come from Regina Prime that authorities wanted them to bring the panel from the satellite with them.  So, it was a good thing they'd not been able to replace the cargo bay door.  The crew took their stations and went down their check lists while the other ship crews started checking in for their ad hoc convoy.  The California's engineers would be working split shift on repairs and component-testing their jump systems.  The flight and gunnery crews would also work on that split shift, meaning each member of the team was up twelve hours to cover the ship's needs.  The "Day shift" was Emkir, Aali and Fesic with Mikah in command.  The "night shift" was Terin, Munarshu and Zimzod with Zimzod in command.  The engineers had the 'droids supporting them.  Some of those still needed repairs.  Rol cooked on the day shift and stored meals for those working night hours.

The IMV Kama Ginsha had been shot up, and lost a gunner, an engineer and a member of the flight crew when the ship was taken under fire.  They were joined by the system defense boats INRS Fairchild and Tiger Moth which both looked much deadlier on sensors than they did up close.  But, the idea was to look scary and not be attacked.  Especially since they wouldn't be where shipping was regularly targeted.  The big concern was that they'd run into something lurking out in the black hoping to find a target before moving into the shipping lanes.  Added to that, they'd be burning their way across the in-system gulf for as many as twenty six days!  So, their worlds were about to become very small with only their ship's boats available to allow any visits at all.  And, with every crew handling repairs aboard, there wasn't going to be much time for social visits.

Crossing the gulf between gas giants, work in the California's engineering section went slowly.  This wasn't just because of how much they had to get done, but also because of the quality of the repair parts.  Aali wanted to do her best to completely test everything before connecting anything up to the ship's systems.  She'd seen signs that the pirate crew had really poor maintenance habits when she'd been aboard their ship.  Slowing things down even more, they didn't have the gear aboard to test any of the components quickly or completely.  That meant much of the installation and in-place component work would have to wait until the more extensive testing was done.  That would take weeks by itself.  Still, Aali was pleased they'd managed to grab a spare jump capacitor, which they stored in a buffered container in the decompressed cargo bay.

Work continued on split shift for the following three weeks and they targeted the 146th day of the year for their arrival.  That was plus or minus one or more days depending on the effectiveness of their repairs and system functions.  One thing was sure, the ship's air slowly and steadily got more and more "funkey", to the point the crew had to start 'taking leave' for an hour or two every few days in the cutter.  That was done by showering and getting into a vacc suit before using the cutter's air-lock to keep from polluting the small craft.  Doing that let the crew spend at least some time breathing clean and odor-free air before returning to the ship's smells.

Getting closer to their destination, it became clear they'd arrive on the 148th day instead of the 146th.  That was both because of their own issues and the need to maintain the convoy.  So, for various reasons, while they came slowly into more direct contact with Regina Prime, they weren't burning as hard as they could.  That also but also maintained more of a rescue net around them should anything go wrong.  At least once during the crossing, the SDB crews had to respond to a life-support emergency aboard the IMV Kama Ginsha.  While their distress call was general, the ranking Regina Naval officer told those aboard the Hotel California to hold off on responding.  They were told they'd be called if the crisis was so bad the naval crews needed help.  Privately, he told Mikah the only likely issue would be housing for the spacers if they had to be removed from their ship?

Arrivals And Answers

     Finally moving into an orbital course around Assiniboia, their tracking had them making half an orbit while lining up with Regina approach.  Starting their gas giant approach, everyone was awake with Terin working the sensors.  With a system as busy as Regina, the cloud of traffic around the gas giant itself wasn't as massive as that around Rhylanor, but was still significant.  Despite the large cloud filling their sensors, it was hard to miss a large and imposing military formation that appeared to be separate from the other traffic.  The small fleet element seemed to be "sitting" in space, drifting in a point they would intercept on their current course.  When Munarshu heard that and panicked, Mikah suggested he quickly hide in a vent.

The flight crew focused their sensors on the formation and could tell the apparent flagship of the group was a 30,000 dTon cruiser!  Piping the sensor data to everyone aboard, they got a huge surprise when the transponder data came in.  Recognizing the data, Emkir called out that they just might recognize the in-coming cruiser.  Hearing that, Mikah asked, "Anybody we know?" and Emkir said it was the INS Tamesha Kargaa.  Shortly after that was shared, they got a comms signal from the cruiser and a request to speak to Mikah.  When Mikah connected, the tech said, "Please stand by while I connect you to your liaison."  Adding to the surprises of the day, Mikah found herself connected to Aali's sister!

The pleasantries were dealt with and the very proper Lieutenant Commander told Captain Kirlim that the IMS Hotel California would be brought into one of the cruiser's vessel bays for the remainder of the trip to Regina.  Along with the California, each of the craft in the convoy would also be brought aboard.  Still, each of the civilian ships had a separate liaison officer assigned them.  While each of the other ships were brought aboard as a relief measure, the California was also brought aboard so the satellite panel could be recovered.  After the crew were welcomed aboard, a team of engineers arrived in the ship bay to begin evaluating the panel.  Getting their first look, they all were amused by the "red flag" and lights.

With that off their hands, the crew were told they'd be taken to secure compartments so they could be completely debriefed.  Arriving in those secure compartments, they saw exactly what was meant by a complete debrief.  The panel there waiting for them included members of the Regina Imperial Naval Intelligence office and standard naval officers.  But, what really "completed the set" were the civilians in grey suits.  Seeing those men, Mikah asked for a moment with her crew?  When that was permitted, she had the crew moved back to the California and handed out the ship's supply of psi helmets, ordering everyone to wear one into their debriefing!  After she handed out the shields and helped everyone put them on, Mikah led her crew back to the debrief compartments, looking forward to seeing their interrogator's reactions.

Nodding when the crew returned, they were asked to sit while the compartment was secured.  Then, they were each told to remove and deactivate the shields.  When Mikah challenged the order, she was bluntly told that was procedure and they were to follow it.  When Zimzod asked on who's orders that requirement came, he was told, "From high enough in the system hierarchy to give you those orders."  The tone used made it clear they would comply or 'bad things' could happen.  When Mikah was still not happy, they asked what made her think she and her crew even needed psi shields?  Mikah said, "We've been scanned before.  By non-descript agents in grey suits." in an annoyed tone.  She finished up, saying she wasn't really happy about that.

When the officer asked, "And what makes you think that you will be scanned now", Mikah said that a key reason was having been ordered to take the shields off.  Nodding, the officer told Mikah that she had the right to lodge an objection if she thought they were being scanned.  When Mikah pushed, asking, "Isn't the use of psionics illegal?" the officer admitted, "Yes.  But if you're being scanned, what makes you think you have the authority to prevent it?"  Mikah tried the obvious, saying, "My protections under the law."  Not rejecting her claim, the officer came at the issue from an alternate direction, asking "Who uses psionics in in intelligence?"

Mikah stopped to consider her answer, and hedged, saying, "Well...  I could tell you." but stopping there.  Nodding, the officer said, "Go ahead and tell me." while confidently waiting for the obvious answer.  Taking things in a direction the officer clearly didn't expect after another pause, Mikah said, "Well, there is this mythical organization which isn't mythical.  And, they're the ones who scanned us."  Not sure where Mikah was going, the man fixated on the word 'mythical' and asked if there were unicorns?  When Mikah said they weren't, he said, "Too bad.  The Arch Duke's sigil is a unicorn."  Mikah simply said, "Not that Duke." without further context.  When the man admitted, "OK, he's now the Arch Duke but he was a Duke." Mikah pushed, "Not that Duke.  A different Duke and a different system."

Smiling to cover his complete lack of understanding, the officer said, "OK.  It would perhaps make sense to you that, if I were to use psionics against you, you would need to use psionics to defend yourself against me.  Would you not?"  Side stepping his attempt to drive the conversation where he wanted to lead, Mikah answered, "I don't have psionics.  All I have is a psi-shield."  Nodding, the officer persisted, "But.  If that were the case, if we Imperials were being scanned by psions from the Zhodani Consulate..."  Mikah interrupted him, demanding, "What if we were being scanned by psions from the Imperium?"  Turning the question back on Mikah, the officer asked, "How do they know you're not Zhodani?"  When Mikah simply answered, "Because I'm not Zhodani", the officer had her.

Smiling, he said, "They can't know.  Until they can scan you and then know for certain."  Missing his point entirely and deciding the logic was circular, Mikah gave up and asked, "OK.  What do you want?" in a frustrated and annoyed tone.  Nodding, the officer simply told her to have the crew comply with the debriefing restrictions and cooperate.  Mikah accepted that and they sat so the hours of questioning and re-questioning could begin.  Despite the intense and at times pointed questioning, it was clear the investigators weren't trying to blame the crew for anything.  While still exhausting and draining, the crew could only do their best to work with the investigators to make sure they tried to remember the most complete and correct answers.

After the hours of debriefing, the crew were completely wrung out.  Because of that, they were very happy to be told they'd be given quarters aboard and allowed to rest and recover over the rest of the day, and didn't have to leave until the next morning.  They were also told there had been a complete news blackout imposed regarding the ship's activities.  Sadly, there were already some rumors appearing which the Duchy were working to track down.  The worst of the rumors appeared to suggest the Hotel California had been involved in piratic operations!  Led to their quarters aboard the cruiser, Mikah was told the surprisingly complete field repairs would throw a wrench into those rumors.  It will be hard to continue claims the ship suffered significant hull damage with the lack of visible damage when they landed.

Happy for even the smallest of victories, Mikah said they were still missing a cargo bay door and Zimzod leaned in and asked, "Can you fix that for us?"  Zimzod was told they couldn't, though it wasn't explained to them that taking the time to do repairs in orbit would actually back up the rumors.  Taking the time to stop and have repairs done would let the rumor mongers claim a cover up.  Besides, it was pointed out they could say they intentionally removed the door to accommodate the satellite panel.  So, the lack of a door, as long as the cargo bay door connecting systems were not heavily examined visually, was a good thing.

Arrivals And Surprises

     The morning of the 149th day of the year was a relaxed sequence while the crew woke and dealt with their morning needs.  This was because they knew they'd be told what they would be doing after they'd all reported to the bay the ship was in.  Not to be disappointed, Aali's sister was waiting with the bay lieutenant and their orders.  She took particular pleasure in using the word, "Orders", with a smirk on her face.  The papers directed them to coordinates where they would land the ship, and where a vehicle would be waiting for them.  There were also instructions to visit the court of Her Grace, to "allow them to explain themselves."  In between that, they would be transported to the new suite which would be assigned as Zimzod's fief, so they could settle in and refresh themselves.

After they'd secured the ship and lifted from the bay, it was a simple matter for Emkir to guide them away from the cruiser and down-well into the atmosphere.  Thanks to the port's command and control system, the descent was very easy to manage.  They settled the ship on a mobile platform that would move it to a holding berth while the crew were met by their driver and driven to the fief.  There were no surprises along the way, but there was a message waiting for them when they arrived.  Mikah played the message while wondering 'what now?'  An officer from the Duchy Navy appeared on the screen and said they had, at the request of the Seneschal, sent jump-2 scout ships to the trailing and riftward systems because they were notified the California had a crewman traveling from the Rhylanor system.  The message further said the crews of these ships were to be "in place" and make certain their arriving crewman reached Regina without any 'misadventures'.

Hearing that, the crew regretted the fact they were being notified in a message, and couldn't request video of the event when Aiden was "picked up".  When Mikah called, saying she hoped to warn them about Aiden's paranoia but really hoping she could also ask for a video to be made, they told her the ships involved had already been dispatched.  After that, the crew knew they had to present themselves in Her Grace's court the next day.  Knowing they'd missed the investiture, Mikah suggested they watch the news and catch up on what had happened?  Rol suggested they make sure everyone's suits and court clothing were ready to go.

They got down to taking care of things until the suite's comms buzzed and the butler answered the line.  After a brief conversation, she discretely told Mikah, "Her Grace is here to see you."  That stopped Mikah cold, if only for half a second when the impact of the words hit home.  The Duchess still had to be involved in a great deal of post-investiture work and discussions, so making a house call was, unexpected.  Looking at the butler, Mikah asked the woman, "Say what?" and the butler quietly repeated what she'd said, and even she seemed a bit cowed despite the high level of professionalism their butlers had shown.  Nodding, Mikah said "OK" and started to move in the scant minutes between the call and the knock at the suite's door.  Without the chance to organize anything or prepare, Mikah simply went and opened the door while Terin jokingly called out, "No one's home".

The door opened on Lady Seldrian, Duchess of Regina and her security detail.  While they didn't have many weapons drawn, Mikah did her best to ignore a few dangerously aimed firearms and said, "Your Grace!" in as welcoming a tone as she could.  With a perfunctory smile for Mikah, Seldrian asked, "May I come in?"  Mikah very quickly said, "Absolutely!  Please.  These buildings are your property." and let off a nervous laugh.  After the Duchess and her team entered, Seldrian welcomed them to, or back to, Regina and introductions were in order where needed.  With that done, they sat to talk and Seldrian told them that Branj Dilgaadin planned to speak to them all in the coming week.  Everyone in the room had a private second or two to consider just how fun that would be!  Seldrian also said that Countess Josephine had sent her thanks for their cooperation before returning to Efate and the affairs of her own people.

The Duchess also said, "She left you this." and withdrew a data crystal from a pocket, handing it to Mikah.  Before Mikah could set it up to play, the Duchess said Mikah could explore the crystal after she finished her business.  Seldrian continued, "We understand you had some, interesting interruptions while in our service?  Mikah responded, "Yeah.  We brought a guy out to fix the satellite, and it...blew up."  Mikah continued, "It was quite a shock." and the Duchess nodded, answering, "I can guess.  I've read the reports."  When Zimzod added in, "We've even got video of it." the Duchess said she'd seen the video while reading the reports, and she'd been quite shocked too.

Mikah picked up there, saying, "And then, as we tried to pick up the part which went flying, there was some kind of pirate activity going on at the gas giant below us.  Nodding, the Duchess grimly said, "Yes.  We're well aware of that."  Mikah decided to be neighborly and told Seldrian, "The systems defense staff were very professional."  Aali threw in, "And very helpful."  Mikah agreed with that and the Duchess said she was pleased before Zimzod asked, "Can you get the cargo bay door of our ship fixed?" with a huge smile on his face.  Nodding to Zimzod, the Duchess said, "I believe that has been arranged." with a smile.  The crew were pleased since that was the first they were hearing about that.

Turning more serious, the Duchess said, "I think you should know there has already been one assassination attempt."  Surprised, Mikah asked, "Since we got back?" assuming it was a threat against someone on her crew.  When the Duchess said, "No.  Before you got back."  Mikah asked, "On yourself?" and Seldrian nodded.  Her expression change to one of satisfaction and the Duchess continued, "We followed the survivors back to their home point, which turned out to be a command post."  Again surprised, Mikah first asked, "You did?"  and then asked "What did you find?"  Smiling almost coyly, the Duchess said, "We found someone from another system."  The tone was leading and Mikah didn't need any other prompting to ask, "What other system?"  With a widening smile and a knowing look, Seldrian said, "A nation on the world Porozlo called Stepozhevaci, which you might have heard of."

Hearing that, Mikah, Zimzod, Emkir and Rol groaned and nodded.  The others on the California's crew nodded because they'd been told of the ship and crew's past history.  Mikah sighed and said, "Yes.  That government has been a pain in our backside.  In many cases, they were the 'go to villain' for Mikah and Zimzod.  And, in this case, they'd been correct.  What bothered Fesic and some others was that none of this had been on the news!  Digging deeper, Mikah focused on the tracked agent and asked, "What did this person have to say for themselves?"  The Duchess only answered, "From the images I saw, they were laying their and bleeding pretty profusely."  Outwardly pleased, Mikah nodded and said that was nice while being inwardly disappointed there wouldn't be further questioning and leads.

Based on what they'd learned from the cell they'd taken down, Regina's Intelligence organizations, along with Imperial offices in-system, were certain this was a classic guerilla organization with more disparate and disassociated cells out there.  Adding to the pot, the Duchess said the Duchy's fleet had also grown by three more starships.  When everyone looked up for more information to explain that, the Duchess said, "They were found in dirtside landing fields after not having gone through Regina's Health, Immigration and Customs protocol."  Nodding, the Duchess said, "That was the result of information developed by the party favor Sir Fesic had given us."  The others all remembered the man Fesic had shot, ending the welcome banquet for Emkir's father.

The crew nodded and hummed in approval and the Duchess said, "It seems he's been a font of information." in a tone which was very self-satisfied.  Seldrian said, "He was" when Mikah asked, "Was this guy an agent for the Stepozhevaci?"  The Duchess continued, "Our intelligence personnel have had quite a good time talking to him."  Not certain, Mikah asked, "Do they have a consulate or embassy in-system?" and was told they didn't.  The Duchess made it clear the Stepozhevaci were much too small to play in the waters of Regina.  After a brief silence, the Duchess again spoke in that self-satisfied tone and said, "It was especially satisfying because they were all Natokan ships."  When she said that, the wave of shock that ran through the crew was immediate.

After waiting for the comments sparked by that data to die down, the Duchess added, "Armed merchanter starships", which meant so much more.  The Natokan government was banned from owning armed vessels by the Imperial Navy after incidents during the late 1090's.  There was another pause, before the Duchess casually said, "After the coming week, after you answer for yourselves tomorrow in court, you will take part in meetings.  We will also make sure to have your aft cargo bay door dealt with.  Tthere will also be certain meetings set between members of your crew and specific members of our intelligence agencies."  Mikah and the others made noises of agreement and acceptance while the Duchess spoke, and then Seldrian said, "Other than that, We have sent some of our people to make sure your arriving pilot reaches Regina unmolested."  The comment left it open "why" or "by whom" Aiden might be "molested?

When Mikah admitted they'd been told that, Zimzod joked, "If we pay extra.  Can he get molested?" with a smile on his face.  That got a laugh from nearly everyone in the room.  Mikah then said, "Aiden is a bit on the paranoid side, Your Grace.  And he's just been cloned and likely wondering how he died in the first place?  So, I hope he doesn't give your people too much trouble."  Mikah fought the laughter prompted by her imagination while she spoke, envisioning Aiden's reaction to being intercepted and "escorted" by the Regina military.  Seldrian only smiled and said, "Remember. I've met you before." and Mikah chuckled and answered, "Yes.  I know."  Nodding, the Duchess told Mikah, "Sir Aiden's condition is nothing new."

When the Duchess said they had dossiers on all the crew that made "interesting reading", Mikah smiled and said, "Well, at least we're not boring."  Everyone in the room chuckled or laughed before they chatted about the investiture and other events.  Finally, it was time for the Duchess to leave as Mikah saw her out before moving to a crystal port to see what was on the crystal Seldrian had given her?  When the file played, it was Countess Josephine, and she thanked them for their service on Regina.  She also said that, while they were an 'unconventional' group, and certainly not the kind of people she was used to, she believed their hearts and loyalties were in the right place.  The Countess also hoped their hearts didn't end up removed from their chest cavities, should they visit the Efate system.

Evening Lessons Into Night

     While they knew that wasn't a threat, Mikah could understand how some of their actions could be "misinterpreted".  Especially by overzealous defense troopers reacting to the actions of some of her under-intelligent crew.  Zimzod grunted and said, "That sounded something like a 'love-hate' letter." and Mikah agreed, saying, "I think we should not go there.  Nodding, Zimzod said, "Yeah.  I think that was an invitation to not visit."  The joke implicit in the chatter was that Efate wasn't a garden spot, now or before the war.  In fact, Rol clearly remembered being assigned there in 1105, in a culture rapidly approaching global civil war.  And the others felt it was important as a transit point and a military hard point, but nothing more.

In both the Third and Fifth Frontier wars, Efate had been heavily hit by the Zhodani to cut off communications and support for the Jewell cluster.  History would have to judge how much of the pre-Fifth Frontier unrest were due to pre-invasion infiltration and Zhodani social manipilation or not.  Setting the crystal aside, they sat to watch more of the news.  It bothered them that the rumor mill hadn't seemed to slow down at all, even despite the hit taken when they managed to capture the first agent and strike back against suggestions Terin was a mole.  In fact, that seemed to have taken hold with a percentage of the population, despite the very firm data the Duchy government presented.  And the more the story popped up, or got support, the more people wanted to believe it.

An old maxim of Humanitii.  The more something was said, the more someone believed it, no matter how fake it obviously was.  Many of those who chose to believe would do so, regardless of any investigations or actual facts brought about.  That was a maxim which promised to create a lot of problems for the crew.  The story of Terin's loyalty was no longer the primary narrative, but it was still part of the tapestry being woven.  A check into the past weeks showed there had been some sort if incident in Her Grace's court three or four days before they'd returned.  Search as they might, they found no explanation, but did find a thread of seemingly unassociated events around Atora and Credo cities.

It seemed there had been minor system failures in some small workshops, almost all spaces leased by off-world concerns.  In each, there had been minor explosions and minimal loss of life.  And each of the few cases saw local security forces reacting quickly enough, saving lives and limiting the damage.  While there were follow on reports on increased concerns of public safety, the news items were so well distributed that it only formed a pattern if you were looking for it.  Watching the news and searching back along story lines, Mikah was very appreciative of the headaches the Regina government seemed to have given their friends.  But, soon it was dinner time and, after that, the crew relaxed.

The evening then slipped towards thoughts of bed, with Munarshu sacking out at his traditional 9 pm.  The next day, they all knew they had to be in the Duchess' court, to "answer for themselves" whatever that meant?  That meant part of the evening was spent, by everyone, getting their outfits out and ready for the next day.  They also planned for everyone to be up and fed early enough, since they'd not been told "when" they had to appear?  That meant, they should get a vehicle quickly after breakfast, and be prepared to attend the court for as long as it took.  No one was looking forward to the next day, nor had Mikah received any x-mail, when she checked, suggesting Aiden was anywhere close to Regina.  At the same time, things had settled down aboard the INRS Tuarso Difom and they were expecting to emerge from jump in the Regina system in three days.

Worst Alarm Clock - Ever!

     The next morning, Mikah realized she was awake and could hear this "pinging" in the room.  Opening her eyes, Mikah looked up and was suddenly completely awake!  Past the foot of the bed she shared with Zimzod, there were three people standing, leaning against the wall, with pistols in their hands!  One of the figures held a small electronic box from which the pinging came.  Seeing her open her eyes, one of them, a woman, said, "Ah!  You're awake.  Good."  Mikah snarled, "Who the fuck are you?" and the woman cheerfully said, "All questions will be answered."  She then held up the box which had been pinging and it projected a tri-vid image.

The image sorted itself to form into the appearance of Mr. Dilgaadin.  The Seneschal's image said, "Lady Mikah, Sir Zimzod, These people speak on my behalf."  While that happened, Mikah elbowed Zimzod to be sure he was awake.  The image continued, "Please follow their directions."  Turning the projector off, the woman asked Mikah and a groggy, still awakening Zimzod, "Are we understood?"  When both Mikah and Zimzod agreed, Zimzod still waking and more angry, Mikah now more cautious, the woman said, "You're going into court this morning."  Pausing to check her chrono, she then confirmed to herself, "Yes.  This morning."

Continuing, the woman said, "After you are done with court, you two will each be handed an item.  Then, you will wait until you are completely done with your court appearance and have returned to this suite before taking the appropriate steps.  By that time, you will understand.  With nothing else to be said, Mikah agreed and asked what time they were supposed to be in court.  Privately, she considered how lousy a job these people did of communicating anything more than, 'You are our toys'.  Zimzod joked, "Now" but the woman guesstimated they wouldn't actually be 'in the presence' until 11 am to 11:30.  Mikah checked a chrono, and was even more annoyed, seeing it was 2 am in the morning!  When Zimzod saw that, he asked, "Can we go back to sleep? in an annoyed tone.  The woman said, "You can go back to sleep after this."

That suggested there was more, and both Mikah and Zimzod decided it was time for them to get done with it.  The woman then said, "We would like you very much to remember that you are not supposed to discuss IRIS at all."  When both Mikah and Zimzod jokingly asked, "Who?" the woman replied "Exactly" in a flat tone.  Mikah decided it was fishing time, and started to ask, "I thought our comms codes didn't work anymore?"  But while she spoke, the three filed out the door and left the room, turning the lights out as they went.  Seeing that, Zimzod was disappointed, and said, "I thought they'd disappear in a puff of smoke."  Mikah nodded and matched his sarcasm, saying, "Me too.  That's very anti-climactic."  With nothing else to do about the situation, that early in the morning, the couple simply went back to sleep.

When 5 am came, Munarshu woke and completed his morning routine.  That now included cooking himself a foil pack from the kitchen since he still had issues eating what Rol prepared.  When breakfast came around, Mikah brought up the idea of hiring another chef and renting more vehicles for the team.  When they all agreed and Mikah asked the butler to call, the woman told them their contract with the other suite was still on file.  In that, they had paid for six weeks of food delivery and only been there eight days.  That meant the contract could be re-activated at no additional cost.  Mikah agreed and was told the first week of food would be delivered while they were at court.  After that, they would have food delivered weekly for the next 36 days.  Now expecting Aiden sooner than that, Mikah decided to burn that bridge when she came to it.

The grav-car rentals cost them Cr 600, again, but they weren't too worried about paying that either.  Still, they had dressed up that morning.  Emkir and Aali chose to go in their matching silver-grey outfits.  At the ducal palace, the crew were treated somewhat brusquely when they checked in with the outer fringe of protocol staff.  Past that, they waited and watched business items until Lady Mikah and her crew were called into the presence in a long streaming flow of names and titles.  Before her Grace, the Duchess was reminded the docket said this crew had undertaken a contract for the Duchy supporting the system's defensive systems.  That said, the Court Business officer looked down on them and demanded cause for their failure.

Mikah first thought about saying, 'The satellite blew up and we don't know why?'  Not saying exactly those words, Mikah did find a more polite way of saying the same thing.  She also pointed out the Regina Navy had provided them a technician to work on the satellite, so they'd had no direct access to the device.  After that answer was given, Her Grace nodded and pre-empted further questions by saying she had no doubt her intelligence agencies would resolve the issue.  After that, she thanked Mikah and the crew, and dismissed them from her court.  Annoyed at what had been a monumental waste of time, they were being escorted out by protocol staffers when Mikah and Zimzod were each handed a device.  Pocketing the devices, they returned to their rental and Rol suggested they go out to a bar.  Reacting to that, they wondered if they should go directly to a bar to drink lunch, or go back to the suite and change first?  Mikah and Zimzod thought about the devices they'd been given.

Everyone agreed return to the suite and change before doing or deciding anything else.  Riding back to the suite, Emkir told Aali he planned to get his hair done in a bleach-blonde "spikey" flat top.  Back at the suite, the food shipment had already arrived and their butler asked if they needed the chef to cook lunch or not?  People started changing and dressing down and Mikah said, "Yeah, why not."  She let everyone know lunch would be cooked soon.  After that, Mikah and Zimzod slipped into their bedroom to examine the devices they'd been given.  Those turned out to be GPS units, and each had been programmed with a separate set of coordinates.  A note on each unit said, "When you are ready, activate the device, follow the instructions given Exactly and tell no one what you are doing.  Looking at Mikah, Zimzod said, "Do you think we should take care of this while the others are getting their drunk on?  Mikah just said, "Sure."

Eventually, a chef arrived with the expected team and lunch was served.  During the meal, most of the crew talked about what kind of bar to go to?  Mikah and Zimzod just kept quiet.  Also, during lunch, Mikah called to the building's facilities office and setup a rental agreement for the grav vehicles, like they'd had before.  They then left with the others, and it was only while the crew were ordering their first drinks that they noticed Mikah and Zimzod had disappeared.  When Rol asked, "Where'd they go?" Emkir answered, "I don't know.  They didn't say anything to me."  Munarshu suggestively said, "I think they're drinking out of each other's cups." with a wink.  Rol nodded and said, "It wouldn't be the first time."  Shrugging it off, the crew happily returned to drinking.

After parking the rented grav-car, Mikah and Zimzod walked slowly, until they were at the "back of the pack".  Behind everyone else, no one noticed when the group turned left and they turned right.  Stepping down to the nearby corner and around it, to be out of sight of the rest of the crew, they pulled out their devices and checked the coordinates on each.  Using one of the many street kiosks available, they found the two sets of coordinates were in opposite directions.  Shrugging, they activated their devices and immediately moved off in different directions.  Following their instructions, they both realized there would be multiple stops, so they'd each have to reach one coordinate set and then move off towards another from there.  Each point, far enough away they'd need taxis.

When they each got to the first point and paid their fares, they were each told in turn, to switch vehicles before they could get the next coordinate on the path.  This second run took each of them outside the city, into the countryside.  Arriving at the second location, they each had to choose from a set of provided numbers and call for yet another taxi.  Despite the instructions and at different points, each of them checked their comms and found them not working.  So, the devices were now their text-only comms units.  Mikah gave the driver her coordinates and ended up in the middle of a forest.  Zimzod came to a pier on a large river used for cargo shipping.  When the next set of drivers finally arrived, both Mikah and Zimzod tried to prompt their devices to give them the next coordinates.  Both their drivers told them they already had the destinations and to lean back and enjoy the ride.

Lifting off the ground, Mikah's driver angled the vector of their flight path toward a nearby range of mountains.  Mikah watched the terrain pass by, and checked her time to seew she was about two hours down-range from where she and Zimzod had parted ways.  She also looked around, trying to see a smudge on the horizon that would suggest where the city was?  Soon enough, they were flying down canyons between mountain slopes and finally seemed to enter a box canyon.  And then, the driver turned the car and aimed it directly at the mountainside!  Mikah realized there was nothing she could do with her ride rushing at the cliff, so she leaned deep into her seat and braced for impact.

And they flew right through the surface of the mountain slope!

The view from the windows turned technicolor when they passed through the layers of a very thick and convincing holographic mountainside.  Mikah relaxed a bit while things sorted out in her mind, discarding the "suddenly snap-opening fake mountainside was actually a bay door" for, "OK!  That was different."  The hologram eventually ended while the vehicle slowed and came to a hover.  It then landed in a very busy, well managed vehicle bay with a number of grav-cars and G-carriers present.  And, a team of people dressed in black sneak suits the like of which came out of spy vids and Tri-d's.  After they landed and Mikah stepped out of the car, she was quickly taken into custody as they searched and disarmed her.

With that done, Mikah was led from the bay, through several corridors and into an office.  There, she was seated and left to wait.  After ten to fifteen minutes passed, a man in a grey suit walked in, closed the door behind him and sat down.  Greeting her, Mikah snapped, "Can't you people get different colored suits?!"  It wasn't even in the top 100 questions she wanted to ask, but it seemed the one she needed to ask at that moment.  When she didn't get an answer, she asked, "What?"  The man looked at her and said, "You recently had a conversation in which you discussed IRIS."  Mikah thought back and then said, "I didn't say IRIS", thinking he meant the "mythical organization" conversation with the officer from Regina Military Intelligence.

Allowing her comments to pass, the man said, "You did.  You not only mentioned IRIS as an organization but even mentioned Lord William."  Mikah pushed back, insisting she never said IRIS or mentioned Lord William at all.  While he spoke, Mikah remembered the conversation she'd had with an Admiral of Regina Military Intelligence just over a month before.  She recalled that she had outed Lord William at that time, and regretted her words.  Mikah still insisted she'd never said "IRIS" and the man pointed out she had given the Admiral more than enough information to do the math on his own.  Accepting that, but knowing it was water under the bridge, Mikah agreed and said, "Alright, whatever."  What were they going to do?  Kill her?

Looking Mikah in the eyes, she was told they were going to talk about keeping IRIS a covert organization.  Acerbically, Mikah said, "Alright.  Fine." and leaned back in the chair waiting.  That was followed by several hours of conversation, impressing on Mikah the need to keep IRIS's secrets.  And, several times, repercussions were mentioned if she couldn't prove herself trustworthy in the future.  Mikah really didn't care because she knew she'd been of value and knew she was doing work they wanted to see done.  So, as bad as it might get, Mikah really believed she had little to be worried about from the intelligence organization.  And, she really didn't believe they were more of a danger to her than some of the other groups and criminals she'd encountered.

An Uncertain Offer

     Zimzod had a similar journey of many taxis.  But his set of four drivers eventually brought him to a city several hours drive away from Atora.  The final ride brought him into what looked like the abandoned remains of a corporate park.  Watching out the windows, Zimzod braced for potholes and other debris while the ground car he rode in passed, but it became obvious these were optical illusions.  Anyone looking down the roadway would have "thought" the road a shambles, but certain tracks in the roads were smooth and well maintained.  Realizing that, Zimzod focused on looking for the covert signs of habitation and was slowly able to pick out some really well-hidden items.

Finally, the driver turned into a drive that seemed to end at a set of shattered commercial garage doors.  But, when the car moved up, the doors and structure around them all slid to the side and Zimzod realized they were two camouflaged sliding blast doors.  Passing into the early shadows of what seemed to be a ruined garage, the doors behind closed and the lights suddenly came on.  The driver then pulled past the "entry ruins" and into a clean, maintained and well stocked vehicle support bay.  Before Zimzod could reach for the door latch, to step out and stretch his legs, the floor beneath the vehicle suddenly began to drop, turning out to be a cargo elevator.

Eventually, the lift came to a stop and Zimzod found he was in an even larger vehicle operations center!  After stepping out of the car, Zimzod was also disarmed, though he wasn't taken into custody.  They did have him empty all his pockets and went over him several times with a wand to make sure he was carrying nothing.  After he was seated, Zimzod waited until he was joined by an officer in the uniform of Regina Military intelligence.  The man was a ground-pounder Captain, an O-3, so Zimzod wasn't impressed.  Without preamble, the officer said, "You are not to discuss anything that we speak of in this room.  Is that understood?  This conversation will not have existed, including to your crew and Lady Mikah.  Is that understood?"  He waited until Zimzod nodded and said, "Understood."

The officer then nodded and hit a button placed on the desktop before him.  His action seemed to summon a female Lieutenant Colonel into the room.  She was also wearing the uniform of Regina Military intelligence and Zimzod decided he was moving up in the world.  After she looked Zimzod up and down and looked at the Captain, he nodded back and she said, "OK" before stepping back to the wall of the room.  Zimzod estimated she was well enough out of arm's reach that she could get one reaction before he got her if he jumped.  Maybe two if he had to knock down the Captain, because he was definitely a 'screen door' plush and easy paper-pusher type.

Zimzod watched while the Colonel pointed at items the Captain put on top of the desk and they started to levitate!  The Captain seemed to direct the Colonel while she concentrated and the floating items over the desk performed as the Captain asked.  Still watching, Zimzod quickly realized she was using psionics!  Telekinesis, to be precise!  Sitting in the office, Zimzod wasn't a person who would "want to" break Imperial or local law if he could avoid it.  But, thanks to his background, what represented breaking or bending the law was often the more important distinction.  And where it came to psionics, Zimzod had always been raised to know those were the weapons of the Zhodani.  In fact, he could even remember a time in his childhood when a woman had been found innocent of murder because she claimed her husband convinced her he was telepathic.  She had forced him out an air-lock.

Thanks to his interest in legends and mysteries, Zimzod had read about the 65 Imperial charters for "psionics institutes" in existence before the year 800.  And how Empress Paula II had revoked them all in that year.  He'd also risked quite a bit, as an older teen, to learn two of those revocations had, themselves, been canceled, but there was no explanation.  Perhaps the "institutes" had already been destroyed by the time the revocation arrived.  Or, perhaps, they had managed to go underground.  It had always been a childhood fantasy of Zimzod's to seek out one of the two missing institutes and expose it.  Maybe, even sharing in the glory of destroying it himself!  Zimzod could only dream of the rewards that would get him.

Now, he was sitting and watching two officers of the Regina military actually practicing psionics!  Examining the Colonel first, because she appeared to be the practicing psion, he saw she was tall, which was common for Zhodani.  That's where the matches ended.  The Zho tended to be fair of skin and hair, with thin and drawn features.  This woman's face showed age, but it also showed the history of rounded and full features.  Her now oval face had been round and her brown eyes gazed out from under a dark brunette cap of hair cut to military standards.  She was fit, with her age just beginning to show, though she only had a bit of a rounded chin rather than the double chins formed as flesh sagged or grew to excess.  She showed no signs of Zhodani ancestry.

Looking at the Captain, Zimzod found the man watching him, as if waiting for the questions he knew would come.  He didn't look Zhodani either.  Glancing back at her, Zimzod asked, "She's a psychic, isn't she."  The question was more of a statement, and before he answered Zimzod, the Captain turned and nodded at the Colonel, who left and closed the office door.  The Captain then nodded and said she was, at which point Zimzod asked, "That's very illegal.  Isn't it?"  The Captain then continued answering, "It is, for the common man."  After a pause, the Captain said, "Sir Zimzod.  If someone is firing slug throwers at you, you would fire slug throwers, or better, back.  Right?"  Zimzod nodded and said, "Unless I've got something better."

Nodding himself, the Captain asked, "So.  How do you fight someone who uses psionics?"  Zimzod accepted the point for the moment, saying, "Alright.  I get it."  Because this trail was a path of many miles, the Captain asked, "How do you feel about it?" in a voice more flat then questioning.  Being honest, Zimzod paused before saying he wasn't too happy about it.  Still in a flat voice, the Captain asked, "If I gave you your weapon back right now, what would you do?"  Zimzod paused again, before saying, "Put it in my holster."  The Captain probed, "Are you sure about that?" and Zimzod answered, "Yeah." Nodding, the Captain said, "OK."  Another uniformed staffer then walked into the room and handed Zimzod his pistol and comms.  Zimzod holstered the weapon and saw his comms were still dead.  Zimzod then thanked the Captain, saying he felt a lot less naked.  Looking at the officer, Zimzod asked, "So, what's your deal?"

Considering his words before speaking, the Captain said, "We would like you to take a job."  When Zimzod asked, "What is this job that I'm taking?" the man said, "You will work for us.  On an extended basis, of course."  Nodding, Zimzod asked, "Ok.  And what if the shit goes ass up, as it typically does when I work for people like you?"  The Captain said, "We'd like you to make sure none of our secrets are spilled."  Zimzod said, "Alright" and nodded.  Then Zimzod asked, "What is this job?"  The Captain enigmatically said, "It will involve some training."  Zimzod nodded again and the Captain continued, "And you will know what to do when the appropriate time comes."  Nodding again, Zimzod agreed and said, "As long as it's not against the Imperium, we're good."  When he said that, the Captain said, "Actually, it is quite specifically in support of the Imperium.  Sadly, I can't explain to you now what you will come to understand after you are trained."

Nodding again, Zimzod said, "Alright.  Let's kill this puppy."  After that, Zimzod was asked to follow the officer and they moved across the office space to a lift, then dropped a few levels.  There, they passed through a secure door and moved into a corridor with rooms to either side until they stopped at one.  Opening that door, Zimzod could see what looked like a dormitory room with a single bed and few pieces of furniture.  Zimzod was told this would be where he would be living for the next week.  Zimzod was also told his crew would be notified he'd be unavailable for the next week.

After hours of enjoying her conversation about keeping IRIS's secrets, Mikah was offered a ride back to her crew.  She was also told that Sir Zimzod would be busy for the coming week, and would return to them when he was done with what he was doing.  When Mikah asked for any information on that, she was told Zimzod would explain.  The rest of the crew had shrugged off the disappearance of Mikah and Zimzod, deciding they had some time planned on a mattress somewhere.  They each spent in the area of Cr 50, and during their elbow-bending time, raised a number of toasts to the departure of Mikah and Zimzod.

Eventually, through a process none of them quite remembered, the crew found themselves all collected and returned to the suite, where the drinking continued in private.  So, the butler was called on to break out even more alcohol.  While there were no questions about where Mikah and Zimzod were, their absence sparked toasts to Mikah and Zimzod's endeavors in or out of bed.  That went on for nearly twenty minutes before Mikah arrived.  And she was certainly not in a good mood.  When her arrival seemed to spark another escalation of the party in the suite, Mikah grimly said, "I have to finish making another batch of that vargr juice."

Hearing that, Emkir proudly said they had lots of drinks in the place and didn't need vargr juice.  Munarshu piped up then, saying "I need vargr juice", and was shouted down by those reminding him he was why they didn't have any vargr juice.  Mikah just ignored that and broke out the whiskey.  Whenever anyone asked about Zimzod, Mikah said he had something to take care of and would be gone for a week.  Hearing that the first time, Terin suddenly said, "DAMN!  You rode him that hard??"  That got a lot of laughs from everyone.  That was followed by a stream of jokes about how badly Mikah had broken Zimzod, followed by those asking if they could visit the executive officer wherever he was recovering?  Mikah ignored the questions and comments and put an effort into catching up with the drinking the others had done.

A Hair Of The Vargr

     The next morning, people slowly woke on their own or more suddenly woke with the unintentional help of others.  When Terin finally got the cotton out of his mouth and steadied himself while standing, he moaned, "Well, that was a good party."  Slumped at the table, sitting near where Terin stood, Munarshu sounded as if he'd developed an urgent leak and shushed Terin.  Reacting despite his own hangover, Terin yelled, "What?  Bit of a hangover?"  Terin ignored his own pain getting a satisfying wince of pain from Munarshu.  Nearby, the noise woke Emkir, who moaned "Who's yelling?" in a plaintive slurred voice.

Mikah stirred and Terin asked what she had for hangovers while Emkir hoped they didn't have anywhere they had to be?  Mikah admitted that re-hydration was the best cure for what ailed them while Emkir went her one better and asked the butler for a bloody mary.  With double the vodka.  Each went for their preferred cure and the butler told Mikah, "You have a visitor from the shipyard, My Lady."  With Mikah's permission, the visitors were allowed to take the lift to the suite's floor and visit.  Mikah saw, as they arrived, that one of the group was wearing the uniform of the Regina Naval Reserve, which was an odd choice for a commercial meeting.

After settling their gear and the introductions had been taken care of, Mikah found the next was a certified interstellar architect and the third person was the architect's assistant.  While they'd arrived and settled themselves, they couldn't help but notice the state of the space and the people in it.  Seeing that, Terin looked up and asked, "Want a beer?" in as cheery a voice as he could muster.  Shrugging that off, they appeared to ignore the rest of the suite while sitting ready to discuss the ship with Lady Mikah.  Munarshu and Aali moved in and Munarshu was heard to beg for smaller words in quieter tones.  He was told that wasn't their issue, since they had to be accurate and understood.

The issues they faced were 'making a permanent fix to the fuel system', Replacing the ship's cargo bay door and going over the other field repairs done and materials used in order to assure the ship was safe to take into jump again.  They did confirm the Duchy had assumed the cost of the repairs, though they expected those to be within reason.  And, they'd been given access to the ship, and sent initial teams to survey the situation and make more complete investigations of the over-all status of the damage.  Issues they expected to have to deal with included removing and replacing a section of the under-carriage of the cargo bay, where the machine systems supporting the bay door lived.  Some of that space may well have been bent or warped thanks to the forces in play when the door was ripped away.

They said they'd also gotten an advance report that included collateral damage, including the cargo container sealing system.  Their initial estimate was that the crew were likely to have to replace that device.  They would be back with a more complete and detailed write up of the work to be done the next day.  They also expected to be able to complete the work in a week's time if they were given full access to the ship.  Mikah recorded permission, giving them full access to everything except the staterooms and the ship's locker.  When Emkir worried about giving access to personal files on the ship's computer, he was told he could put up a firewall to prevent them accessing any personal file spaces.  Emkir figured he'd log into the ship's systems and spend the morning doing that.

After that meeting was done, Munarshu looked around and asked, "Where's our first officer?  When Terin pointed at Mikah and said, "She said he'd be gone for a week." Mikah joked that some people didn't remember things after a drunk."  Her tone heavily suggested she was saying Munarshu was a lightweight who couldn't hold his booze.  Still, there were a number of comments on how Zimzod had gone off on a "special vacation" and a snark from Rol that Zimzod got all the girls.  When Munarshu said he hoped it wasn't to go drinking, Rol told him he should just stop whining.  Munarshu defended himself, saying, "I'm not whining.  I'm hurting."

He was then told by several people that his complaining about hurting was whining.  When Munarshu answered that he didn't have any problems to complain about, Rol joked that he seemed to be the only one of them who had a drinking problem.  To the side, Emkir just shook his head at Munarshu saying, "Gladys, Gladys, Gladys" in a chiding tone.  Over Emkir, Rol finished by telling Munarshu to suck it up.  Fesic, who had woken during the meeting with the architect, looked over at Munarshu and called him a Nancy boy while Mikah reminded the engineer, "This is something you did to yourself."  When Munarshu agreed he did and then had the nerve to ask Mikah to lower her voice, Mikah shouted at him, "NO!  YOU DID THIS TO YOURSELF!  STOP WHINING", finishing with a very satisfied smile.

Munarshu clapped his hands over his ears and seemed to try and shrink back into himself to hide from the sound waves.  The engineer moaned in his misery while Fesic asked, "Haven't you realized that when you follow Rol, he always leads you in the wrong direction?"  That reminded them all it had been Rol's idea to go drinking.  Perhaps, truly a bit hurt, Rol defensively said, "I didn't hear any complaints last night." and Fesic clarified that he was only talking about Rol's effect on Munarshu.  Deciding to pile on the 'You make bad decisions" bandwagon, Mikah asked Munarshu, "Where's your Ident anyway?"  Before Munarshu could answer, Rol joked, "We're all good.  I have it right here." and got a laugh from everyone in the room except the moaning Munarshu.

While Emkir went back to his work on the computer, Munarshu took it upon himself to be responsible for working on repairs and fixes for the androids.  He was also happy to decide he could handle that work the next day and spend "today" recovering.  Discussion of that turned into planning a field trip to the ship the next day and Fesic, Rol and Terin chimed right up.  There was a pause after that before Munarshu "finally figured it out"!  He then announced that Zimzod was away for a week because Mikah was punishing him for blowing up their prize, referring to the hundred-tonner that attacked them at the gas giant.  Mikah angrily snapped that she wasn't punishing Zimzod for anything in a tone which continued to warn Munarshu he should at least try to have a vague grasp of the facts.

Of course, the others all knew there was little hope of that because they knew Munarshu wouldn't know an actual fact if it hit him with a megawatt laser.  Munarshu then shifted his story, saying, "He's punishing himself for destroying millions."  Mikah said "No" and others said the kill wouldn't have been theirs to claim.  Terin asked what Munarshu was talking about?  When Munarshu answered, "why Zimzod's not here" in a tone which asked 'Why aren't you getting this?'  Rol said, "he's on vacation." but Munarshu persisted, claiming, "Yeah, he's punishing himself.  He's gone to some mountain somewhere, and he's whipping his back..."

Terin interrupted Munarshu's clueless masochistic fantasy to ask, "Why would he be punishing himself?"  Accusingly, Munarshu claimed, "Because he blew up a potential juicy target that could have yielded up millions."  Shaking his head, Rol asked Munarshu, "What universe are you in?" though he already feared he knew the answer.  Terin simply chided, "Yeah.  I think you're delusional." in the tone most often used for people who were obviously in need of, or off their meds.  When Munarshu tried to defend his baseless accusations, Terin's tone became forceful and the navigator almost roared, "He killed something that was trying to kill us!"  Jumping on that, Munarshu said, "No!  He blew it up!  He could have killed it and left it in orbit, so we could have boarded it and brought it home as a prize."

Not for the first time, all those who were flight-rated in the room, except Munarshu, were glad Mikah had never given the engineer bridge access!  The man was obviously delusional when it came to any chance of recovering the ship before it fell back into the gas giant if they'd disabled it.  Terin now angrily asked, "Excuse me Sir!  You're a pilot aren't you?"  Giving Munarshu only scant seconds to admit he was, Terin plowed on, shutting Munarshu up as he went.  "Then you know that something really close to a gas giant, when we are really far from a gas giant, means we're not going to get to it either way, to get anything off of it before it falls into the gravity well."

When Munarshu persisted, Terin snapped, "It's called physics", stretching the last word as if trying to communicate with a child.  Munarshu responded, "The word you're looking for is gravity." and Terin replied, "Which is part of physics."  Munarshu then insisted that he felt they still could have recovered some parts of the ship, only to be jumped on by every crew member in the room.  Suddenly, Rol stepped in asking, "Excuse me.  Were you in engineering?  No!  You were out." because he'd been lying out cold on the floor before the kill shot.  Rol then said Munarshu would have had no idea "what" had been happening, and had no clue what might or might not have been possible, in a tone which made it clear that should have ended the debate.

Too much of a fool to realize how wrong he was, Munarshu was still obstinate enough to claim they could have recovered "something of value".  When the only thing Mikah said she regretted not getting was the ship's nameplate, Munarshu even volunteered to get into a vacc suit after the ship was repaired, and have himself lowered into the atmosphere of the gas giant until he could reach the name plate!  This was the sign Munarshu was so delusional that arguing with him was of no use, but Mikah happily said she'd take Munarshu up on that offer!  She would be very thrilled to hang Munarshu from a line until the gravity of the failed star snapped the cable or they proved there were megafauna lifeforms swimming in its atmosphere when one came up and "ate the bait" off their line.

Sunlight On The Horizon

     After turning his back on Munarshu, Rol went to work on his stent, and planned to take an analgesic thanks to the "Munarshu blood pressure spike".  Because they felt so bad, Munarshu and Aali both announced they were going to drink a good deal of water and crawl back into their respective beds.  Mikah also got herself a nice sized squeeze bottle of water before she settled in to watch the news.  Fesic got water and joined Mikah.  Emkir grabbed water after his bloody mary, and joined Mikah and Fesic.  Terin grabbed a bottle of water and relaxed to do stent work, like Rol had.  He figured that if he felt better later on, he'd work on some of his computer classes.

The lead story in-system was still the inauguration and installation of the new Duchess.  There were also still a great many diplomats and bureaucrats in-system, though most of the heads of state had left the system for their homeworlds.  Despite the fact the government was largely the same, there were a great many changes happening to accommodate the new local ruler.  Especially for those systems, like the Yori system, which were still held by the Arch Duke at the moment.  It was largely expected that Duchess Seldrian would eventually take up the titles and management of those systems.  But she only spoke for them now as needed while Mr. Dilgaadin spoke for the Arch Duke, per the powers left him when Norris left the system.  Soon, the news covered a report on an apparent attack on the defense system of Regina!

They listened while the report detailed the events they'd been involved in.  The public were told that a completely routine mission to handle re-freshing one of the system's defensive satellites had gone wrong when the ship handling the work was attacked.  The report glossed over a number of facts, like the initial explosion that destroyed the satellite, and fixated on the space battle to recover critical components from the device.  Everyone watching knew that an ally or friend had been behind writing the reports.  This was because the reports said things like, "The system owed the crew of the Hotel California a debt for being able to recover the components while fighting off the unknown attacker in a merchant vessel."  That meant someone was working to control the shape of the news, and use it to attack initial rumors the California had been involved in piracy.

The report also said the California would under-go repairs for her minor damage and the Duchy would cover that cost as payment of the bounty for their shoot down of the unidentified starship.  The end of the report included a number of sensor and vis-light recordings of the events.  Vis-light images of the satellite debris and the sensor data for the intruder were shared, along with energy readings.  That moved into "comfort reporting", assuring the viewing public that the Admiralty were working with the Imperial Navy to see if they could identify properties of the intruder, such as their power and engine flare readings, to properly identify the destroyed ship and trace it back to its homeworld and organization.

The report closed with a reminder that a number of vessels of Natokan origin had been seized for evading Regina system security when entering the system.  They were further carrying unknown and potentially illegal passengers and cargo during these events.  While their crew were being interrogated, and their computers and logs investigated, the viewers were also reminded the Natoko system was blockaded under an investigation of that government's actions.  Viewers were further reminded the Imperial forces in that system had been attacked by a shadow fleet largely believed to be operated by Natoko's government.  Some of the last data given in the report appeared to have been provided by the highest levels of Imperial Navy command in the Regina system.

Eventually, it was close to lunch time, and those awake woke the sleepers.  Soon after, the chef arrived and everyone settled down to eat lunch.  After eating, Aali devoted her afternoon to more recovery and stent practice.  Rol continued hydrating himself and took a nap.  Munarshu returned to his bunk for the afternoon, getting up only to get more water and mostly vegetating.  Mikah decided to relax, and went searching the listings for the kinds of tri-vids and other entertainment productions she could watch on the suite's entertainment systems.  Terin did his computer studies while Fesic spent some hours on his lock picking and then switched to some hours on his college classes.  After eating, Emkir decided to take a nap and then hire a cab to take him to the ship to lock down the computer that afternoon.

When they asked why he chose to do that, given they'd all agreed to do a field trip the next day, Emkir said the repair people would be arriving that day.  So, he wanted to have the computer locked down before they got there.  The ride to the port cost Emkir Cr 30, and he spent the entire late afternoon working on locking their systems down.  The method he used was to create a "Utility" user account and give that permission to access all the "ship's systems" software the repair teams would need.  After that, he password restricted all other parts of the computer storage.  Then, Emkir created a password-accessed code to use the Utility account and stored the password for that where he could direct the repair teams to go.  Not completely satisfied, Emkir decided to hit a local restaurant and eat before spending two more hours checking for trap doors.

Eventually, Dinner rolled around and, after they'd eaten, Rol sat to watch vids and continue recovering.  He hoped to find a good action vid to eat the evening away.  Having some spare time, Aali decided to dig into the tons of biographic files she'd gotten from Duke Leonard's library.  Having wasted the entire day, Munarshu decided he wanted to go out and asked if anyone else wanted to?  Mikah reminded him he had to have someone with him or he couldn't leave the suite.  When Fesic asked, "Where are you going?" Munarshu suggested hopping bars until they found a good place.  Not thinking much of the idea, Fesic asked, "You're not gonna wear your ass-less chaps again, are you?" and got laughs all around.  Munarshu was just confused, appearing not to know what ass-less chaps were?

Munarshu tried to sell it, saying, "Just go out and have a good time.  Like we did last night."  But Mikah snapped at him, "Are you going to whine about it tomorrow morning?" in an angry tone.  One of the others said, "Yeah, he's gonna whine about it and we're gonna have to listen to him whining."  When Munarshu protested that he had to be ready to work with the repair people and planned not to drink heavily, people didn't believe a word he said.  He pushed, saying, "I might have one drink.  Or two, or three." and Mikah filled in, "And then, he's gonna whine."  Fesic told them all, "I think it's better that we stay out of trouble.  We have work to do tomorrow."  When that morphed into Munarshu whining that he was not allowed out alone, he was told to have the butler order drinks but Munarshu whined that was no fun.  Eventually, Munarshu went back to his bed to lie there and veg out more.

When Munarshu got up to go back to his bedroom, Mikah got up and cut him off, swinging a surprise hook punch under his jaw.  Munarshu went down in surprise and didn't get up again.  While he lay there, out cold, Mikah checked his jaw to make sure she didn't break anything, though she wouldn't have been unhappy with that either.  Certain he was not "too physically damaged", and with all the eyes in the place on her, Mikah went to her room to get a syringe and some drugs before returning.  Mikah measured and administered exactly the dosage she expected would keep the engineer asleep the whole night.  She then told the others she'd been concerned he'd leave in the middle of the night while they all slept.

Mikah then asked Fesic to grab his legs and she hooked her hands under Munarshu's shoulders before they carried him into his bedroom and dumped him on his bed.  While Mikah worked, Terin said, "It would have been easier to just shoot him with a tranq."  Rol shook his head and said, "You'd just waste a round." and Mikah agreed.  Terin then turned back to the vid screen and let the images sooth his recovery.  Trying to catch up on time missed, Fesic decided to work on his college classes until he was ready to sleep.  Back at the port, Emkir had returned to the ship and worked for two more hours on securing the computer systems.

The evening progressed until Emkir returned from the port.  After two more hours working, Emkir had found some exploits he'd missed and worked to add control of those into the Utility account he'd created.  He then returned to the suite and told Mikah everything was set.  Then, Emkir asked if anyone wanted to play a multi-player air to air video game using ancient aircraft from some world or other?  When Mikah said "Sure", Emkir enthusiastically set the game up on the suite's holo-projector and geared up to play.  So, the rest of the evening passed with holographic biplane type aircraft spinning and twisting to target or avoid each other or even buzzing those not involved in the game to get a rise or laughs.

Moving Forward And Other Details

     The morning began for Munarshu as he was used to it, at 5am.  But, when he woke, Munarshu didn't know why his jaw hurt so much?  Checking his jawline in the fresher's mirror, Munarshu saw a nice shiny bruise and wondered what the hell?  But he had no answer, so he went about his morning routine.  Fesic had set his alarm for 6am and Terin didn't set an alarm at all.  Aali wanted to get to the ship early, so she set her alarm early and woke up Emkir too.  Rol and Mikah, who had also wanted to go to the ship, were also up early.  After those going to the ship were ready, the party moved into the larger rented grav-car and lifted to the port.  Even Terin was there because, with the joke on him, he woke on his own early enough to join in.

Those not needed for the repair work either played security or worked with Emkir, trying to hack his security job.  Fesic was annoyed, because he'd planned on logging into his own on-ship accounts and found Emkir had locked "everything" down that wasn't part of the Utilities account.  When he brought the issue to Mikah, she agreed but Emkir pointed out this was a safer way to handle things with the repair folks in control of the ship.  Finishing his testing of Emkir's work, Fesic went back to the cargo bay to see what he could do with the cargo sealer?

What he saw, right off, was that the device had been hit, scatter-gun, by shrapnel.  Some of the modules had been punctured.  Just looking at it, Fesic knew that meant some modules would have to be replaced.  Having intended to power the unit up and test to see what it could still do, Fesic decided that even powering it up could cause even more damage.  Since he wasn't an expert on the electronics themselves, Fesic recorded the model and component numbers before taking pictures of the damage.  The model data identified the model as a "General Products" manufactured device, so Fesic checked for a ship's crew support line and connected with them.  After reviewing the material he provided, they recommended replacing both damaged modules.

Fesic asked for a price quote, and was told the two modules would cost KCr 250, which surprised him because he was told that was more than the cost of the entire deal when the ship bought the unit.  Of course, he didn't know they'd gotten the deal, along with two grav-lifters, used from a starport thanks to a deal created by Inger.  And she'd left the ship just when he'd come aboard.  Fesic asked if that included installation and was told they were rack-mounted, pressure-fit installable.  That meant anyone could swap them by unlocking the existing units, sliding them out of their bays and then sliding the replacements in and pushing them securely into place.

Thanking the rep, Fesic told the others what he'd learned.  When he heard that, Terin suggested Fesic shop around and see if he could find someone selling the modules for cheaper?  Mikah agreed, saying, "Why not try?"  Accepting that, Fesic then went to find and check their grav-lifters.  Fesic found the pair where they'd been stored and they functioned perfectly when he activated the power cell and hit the 'device test' studs.  Fesic added that to his report and finished off by mentioning the cargo bay could use a paint job.

Fesic also confirmed the x-mail safe was no more damaged than some paint scratches.  Emkir said that was good because they needed to get some cargo, but was cut off by the others.  Terin said they had to wait until the cargo bay door was repaired.  And Fesic and Mikah reminded everyone they had to wait until Sir Jeremy's trial was dealt with too.  No one mentioned that they were still waiting for Aiden to arrive and now had to wait a week for Zimzod too.  When Fesic realized he'd forgotten, and asked if the trial date had been set, he was reminded it had been officially delayed.  So, they realized they were back in the "wait" part of a hurry up and wait cycle.

The day progressed and the INRS Tuarso Difom emerged from jumpspace and made her orbital entry.  Broadcasting her codes, the ship was given priority on a re-entry slot and cleared to land surprisingly close to where the Hotel California had been parked.  Not that Aiden knew that, or the fact most of the crew were aboard the ship at the time.  After planetfall, Aiden was processed through Health, Immigration and Customs, and then handed over to Regina port security.  With a hover-droid carrying Aiden's luggage, they led him to a waiting vehicle which was nothing more than a port-crawler.  Each time Aiden asked about connecting with his crew, he was told to stand by until cleared.  But, when they finally came around a yard-dividing berm, Aiden saw the California sitting on the tarmac and the crew waiting, because Mikah had been called.

Where everyone is at the end of the session:

     Zimzod: Taking part in secretive training with an intelligence agency
     Everyone else: Just outside the Hotel California immediately after Aiden arrived on-world

Next: New Adventures In Learning